Force of Nature: the power of electricity

When we think about electricity, it usually involves power lines and light switches. We don’t often recall from high school biology class that electricity is also what makes our heart beat. Perry Risley, a Bethel resident and avid skier, was harshly reminded of electricity’s critical role in cardiac health one day last winter.

He was looking forward to a day of skiing with his neighbor at Sunday River and had just started down the first run. That’s the last thing he remembers before he collapsed. Though he didn't know it, Perry was suffering from ventricular tachycardia, a disorder that’s caused by abnormal electrical signals in the heart. As a result, he went into cardiac arrest on the ski slope that winter morning. In a lucky coincidence, the next three skiers to come along were either EMTs or ski patrollers. The group called for help and began CPR. The ski patrol arrived with an automated external defibrillator (AED) in hand and were able to temporarily restart Perry’s heart, but it was clear that he needed treatment from the cardiac team at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston.

The local ambulance crew called for LifeFlight, who could deliver Perry to the care he needed in half the time it would take to drive over Maine’s winter roads. Although Perry’s heart was beating again, it remained a challenge to get his heart back to a normal rhythm. In addition, he was confused and combative which are signs of possible brain damage. To minimize any long term damage, the flight crew placed a breathing tube and connected him to a ventilator which would ensure he was getting enough oxygen.

After a 22-minute flight, Perry arrived at CMMC where cardiac specialists started targeted temperature management, a careful process of lowering the body temperature in an effort to reduce the risk of brain injury. Surgeons also placed an automatic implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (AICD), an internal device that will monitor Perry’s heartbeat, and deliver an electrical impulse if it senses a life-threatening change in his heart rhythm. In all, Perry remained in the hospital for 10 days. Thankfully, he didn’t suffer any permanent damage to either his heart or his brain, and he has returned to the same active lifestyle he led before his ordeal.

Originally from upstate New York, Perry served for 20 years in the Air Force. He retired to Maine, first as the owner of a bed and breakfast in Bar Harbor and then to Bethel where he and his wife spend winters on the ski slopes and summers kayaking in the Androscoggin River watershed. 

CommSpec Jason Sanford
Pilot Karl Hatlemark
Medic Mike Choate
Nurse Mike McDonough
Orientee Kayla Jones