Stricken cyclist: Without 4 ‘angels’ he ‘wouldn’t be here’
BREINIGSVILLE, Pa. (AP) — He missed quite a show, with him at the center.
The stars were the four people who aided him as he lay on the blacktop, his heart stopped, after collapsing while cycling near his Upper Macungie home.
Verma couldn’t have picked a better cast — a retired firefighter, two nurses and an off-duty emergency medical technician who just happened to have a portable defibrillator in his car.
“People use the word miracle. They use the word blessed, all kinds of things,” Verma, 45, reflected a month later at his home, his arm in a sling, his heart connected to a monitor.
“I just think it was the right people at the right time. That’s truly what it was.”
He’s biked mountains all over the world — the Alps in France, the Dolomites in Italy, the Pyrenees in Spain, the Himalayas in India. He rides about 15 miles a day, hitting the road before dawn.
He’s a physician, a kidney specialist. He thought he was healthy.
Then he had a sudden heart attack, the kind known as a “widow maker,” on what was supposed to be a leisurely ride to the velodrome, only a mile or two from his home. He was headed there to watch, of all things, a memorial ride for a young cyclist who had passed away.
Cyclists on that ride, which included Verma’s 15-year-old son, passed right by during the commotion of his rescue that morning at Schaefer Run Road and Fox Lane.
Larry Detris, 60, the retired firefighter, was performing CPR compressions on Verma’s chest.
Kelsey Miller, 27, a nurse at Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest, was monitoring for a pulse.
Wendy Robb, 52, dean and professor at Cedar Crest College School of Nursing, was holding his head in a position to help him breathe.
The EMT, a man whose identity remains unknown, was shocking his heart to try to get it going again.
They all happened to come upon the stricken Verma and jumped in to save him.
Detris, also a cyclist, was riding to meet his teammates for a casual morning outing. He’s seen cyclists down before but sensed this was not just another crash: “There was nobody assisting him, and he wasn’t trying to get up.”
A few people were there already. They had called 911 and also Verma’s wife, using the emergency contact feature on his phone. But they weren’t tending to him. One person told Detris they had been driving behind him when they saw him wobble and fall.
Bystanders suggested to wait for the ambulance. Detris, a firefighter for 25 years in Cape May, N.J., knew better: “I could hear agonal respirations ... that’s the air leaving your body.”
Robb, the nursing dean, was driving past, having just picked up her mother. “I put it in park and said, ‘Mom, I have to go.’”
Verma had no pulse. Detris started chest compressions. Robb removed Verma’s helmet and made sure his airway was open.
Miller, the nurse, was driving past on her way to run a 5K in Emmaus. She jumped in. “This is my bread-and-butter at work. Critical situations, I thrive on it ... your instincts kick in.”
She monitored his femoral pulse. She felt one only intermittently. Robb felt a fleeting beat occasionally, too.
The EMT appeared. He pulled out the defibrillator and shocked Verma. His heart still didn’t beat.
Verma’s wife, Deepti, arrived. She had only minutes earlier driven in the car past her husband on his bike, right before his collapse. Robb comforted her. “He can hear you,” she said. “Tell him you’re here.”
What happened next gave Detris’ heart a jolt.
Also a physician, Deepti Verma joined the effort to save her husband. She started rescue breathing.
“As she’s doing this, I’m thinking ... whichever direction this goes, this is amazing because his love or her love, she’s either going to breathe life into him or they’re going to share their last breath,” Detris said. “I just thought that was awesome.”
A police officer arrived. Then the ambulance. The crew strapped an automated chest compressor on Verma and headed for the hospital.
“It felt like forever but it was probably only like 10 minutes,” Miller said.
She, Detris, Robb and the EMT went on their way. But they couldn’t forget about Verma.
“I had to know what happened to him,” said Miller, of Upper Macungie, who was so shaken that she struggled to sleep for a few days.
She knew Verma’s first name because she heard his wife talking to him. She also heard the ambulance crew say they were taking him to LVH-Cedar Crest, where she worked.
With permission from his wife, she was allowed to see Verma at the hospital. She knelt down and told him: “I did CPR on you in the street with another man.”
They both cried.
“He told me I was his angel,” she said.
Verma doesn’t recall much of that visit.
“I just vaguely remember somebody coming to my bedside and telling me, ‘Hey, I was there,’ and me just thanking her.”
Detris, of Longswamp Township, knew patient privacy laws wouldn’t allow the hospital or ambulance crew to release information. His wife, Chris, stopped by the ambulance station anyway but struck out. Fearing the worst, they checked the obituaries.
Robb, of North Whitehall, turned to the internet.
Also knowing Verma’s first name, she searched for cyclists named Vikram and found his profile on a cycling website. The photo matched. Now knowing his last name, she searched deeper and learned he was a doctor. She also learned he had survived, as she later found a photo of him going home from the hospital.
She was thrilled. She wanted to reach out to him. When she went online to get his address to send a card, she found a Facebook post. Verma had been looking for her and the others.
That was his priority after he returned home after four days in the hospital, where stents were inserted to clear his heart artery.
He had to thank his rescuers. He hoped Facebook would connect them.
“Trying to find a fellow cyclist who performed CPR on me on 6/8/19 around 9:45 AM at the intersection of Schaefer Run and Fox in Breinigsville,” Verma wrote. “I owe him my life because of his prompt actions. Feel free to share as required to find this Good Samaritan for me. Thank you!”
Verma shared the post on the Facebook pages of a few area cycling groups. The cycling community passed it around.
One of Detris’ riding mates saw it and told Detris, who responded on Facebook.
“Vikram, it is with great joy that we hear the news of your recovery!” he wrote. “You are a very fortunate man. Within seconds of starting CPR, you and I were aided by 2 off duty nurses and an off duty EMT. We could not have had better help. I look forward to seeing you on your bicycle again!”
They met for lunch a few weeks later.
“As adults, we like to think we’re not that emotional anymore,” Verma said. “But I think it was a very, very emotional moment for both him and me. I mean, he’s been a firefighter. I’ve been a physician. So we’re kind of used to situations like this at work all the time. But you don’t really imagine it happening at a personal level.”
Robb connected with him on Facebook after seeing the post. She met him Thursday.
Verma hasn’t been able to find the off-duty EMT, but he’s hopeful they’ll eventually connect.
Verma is taking the next step in his recovery, with cardiac rehab. He wants doctors to push him. He’s tired of sitting around. He wants to get back to the sport he fell in love with years ago in New York City. He was in medical training then and lived near Central Park, so he started riding.
He’d also like to escape from the portable heart monitor and external defibrillator attached to him. The devices on his waist make him look like Batman.
It will be a while before he can bike again, and not just because doctors must make sure his heart can take it. When he fell, Verma broke his shoulder and six ribs.
He’s kept a remarkable perspective about it all, and believes his near-death experience was harder on those close to him.
“When I woke up, I woke up with a bruised and broke body but nothing much more,” Verma said. “I think my friends, my family, my wife, the kids, they are the ones who really went through that. I was like out for two days or three days.
“I just woke up and everybody was happy to see me. I kind of woke up towards the end of the movie.”
Information from: The Morning Call, http://www.mcall.com