Fall 2016

How to save a life

The University leads a statewide effort to teach more people how to best respond to sudden cardiac arrest

Bill Hoppenrath (in red jersey), who suffered sudden cardiac arrest while playing hockey, is grateful to the bystanders who revived him.
Photography by Scott Streble

Every Sunday for the last 25 years, 45-year-old Bill Hoppenrath of Ramsey, Minnesota, has played hockey with friends. But on March 8, 2015, during the final minutes of a game at the Coon Rapids Ice Center, Hoppenrath suddenly felt dizzy and short of breath. When he turned to pass the puck, he fell to the ice.

Hoppenrath regained consciousness a couple of minutes later. He thought he had passed out and was ready to resume skating. But that wasn’t in the cards. He had suffered sudden cardiac arrest—a malfunction of the heart’s electrical system that disrupts its ability to pump blood to the rest of the body. (A heart attack, on the other hand, happens when a blockage limits blood flow to a portion of the heart.)

Hoppenrath had been pulseless and not breathing—clinically dead—for two minutes before he was revived by a bystander who used cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and an automated external defibrillator (AED).


CALL 911 if the person is unresponsive, gasping, snoring, or not breathing.

COMPRESS. Place your hands in the center of the person’s chest. Push hard and fast (down 2 inches at a rate of 100 times per minute). Allow the chest to recoil between pushes by lifting your hands.

CLEAR. Locate an AED and follow instructions for use.

Note: Children under 8 years old and unwitnessed cardiac arrests may benefit from traditional CPR (30 compressions followed by two breaths).

Source: Minnesota Resuscitation Consortium

Later at the hospital, Hoppenrath learned that he also had two blocked arteries, even though he’d had no symptoms before this frightening event on the ice. Doctors inserted three stents to get his heart functioning normally again.

A husband and father of two, Hoppenrath is in the small minority of people who survive sudden cardiac arrest, which claims 400,000 lives a year in the United States. Almost 92 percent of Americans who experience sudden cardiac arrest outside of hospitals die within minutes. In the past 30 years, the average national survival rate has not increased.

Lifesaving care

University of Minnesota cardiology professor Demetri Yannopoulos is out to change that. He leads the Minnesota Resuscitation Consortium, a collaborative effort to improve cardiac arrest survival rates in Minnesota by 50 percent.

The consortium began as part of the HeartRescue Project, funded by the Medtronic Foundation with a vision of providing every American who suffers sudden cardiac arrest with lifesaving, state-of-the-art care at the scene, en route to the hospital, and at the hospital.

Today a key component of success for the Minnesota Resuscitation Consortium, now supported in part by the Fred C. and Katherine B. Andersen Foundation, is teaching more people—from the general public to emergency room physicians—how to best respond to cardiac arrest. It relies heavily on partnerships with community groups, emergency medical service personnel and hospital systems, and education programs. These groups collect data, affect policy decisions, and collaborate on research to ensure that innovative and comprehensive care is delivered to people who need it.

Cardiologist Demetri Yannopoulos recently received a $5.7 million National Institutes of Health grant to discover how to best treat patients who have been resuscitated after sudden cardiac arrest.
Photography by scott streble

“We have pioneered ways to improve blood flow during CPR and accelerate recovery with new, advanced strategies for patients with cardiac arrest,” says Yannopoulos, a University of Minnesota Health cardiologist and holder of the R. K. Eddy Endowed Chair in Cardiovascular Resuscitation. “Because of that, here at the University we have the highest survival rate in the country.”

Yannopoulos, who specializes in cardiac resuscitation, treats patients whose hearts were damaged as the flow of blood and oxygen were restored to the heart—so-called reperfusion injury. In the lab, he’s working with University professors Joseph Metzger and Frank Bates to investigate whether a “molecular band-aid,” as they’ve dubbed it, can help to repair the heart after a traumatic event such as CPR or a heart attack.

“By having the ability to decrease the amount of muscle that dies with a simple intervention, you not only save the muscle itself but you save people’s lives, save visits to the hospital for future heart failure,” Yannopoulos says. “People can be more active. They don’t have to be debilitated. Everything stems from our ability to reverse the injury.”

Community effort

The Minnesota Resuscitation Consortium has partnered with the Minnesota Department of Health, the American Heart Association, and other organizations to create Heart Safe Communities across the state.

In these Heart Safe Communities, police, firefighters, and citizens train more people in CPR, determine the need for AEDs, and create greater awareness about cardiac emergencies in general. Going forward, the program will work to improve cardiac emergency preparedness in Minnesota’s top 100 companies as well.

Fortunately for Bill Hoppenrath, in 2013, Coon Rapids—the location of the hockey arena where he experienced sudden cardiac arrest—became the first community in Anoka County to earn the Heart Safe Communities designation. Of the four bystanders who helped to revive Hoppenrath, three were first responders and one had recently completed CPR and AED training through Heart Safe Communities.

On top of that, one of the men Hoppenrath skates with—Paul Mendoza, the owner of a company that sells AEDs—helped to start Heart Safe Communities in Coon Rapids and donated the AED that helped to save Hoppenrath’s life.

And just a week before Hoppenrath’s own emergency, he, Mendoza, and other teammates played in an exhibition game with National Hockey League alumni to raise money to install AEDs at local hockey rinks.

Words cannot express the gratitude Hoppenrath feels for those who saved his life, he says. Instead, he is giving back to his community by attempting to get all youth sports association coaches in the Anoka-Ramsey area trained in CPR and AED use.

“I feel like a million dollars,” Hoppenrath says. “‘Thank you’ will never be enough.”

Lesley Schack is a senior stewardship specialist for the University of Minnesota Foundation. Greg Breining and Nicole Endres contributed to this story.