LSU students save professor after sudden cardiac arrest; EMS calls response 'phenomenal'
LSU Boyd James Oxley suffered no heart or brain damage due to the cardiac arrest, which doctors attributed to the quick response
By Will Sentell
The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.
BATON ROUGE, La. — A trio of LSU students are getting credit for saving the life of Boyd professor of math James Oxley.
"Not just my life. My career," Oxley told reporters Thursday.
"You lose seconds on these kinds of situations and you lose brain function," he said.
Oxley, 66, was swimming laps at the LSU University Recreation building on July 5 around 6 p.m. when he suffered cardiac arrest.
The veteran swimmer stopped in mid-stroke, fell across the lane ropes and began gasping for air while two other swimmers hauled him out of the pool.
Kati Estes, a lifeguard and junior at LSU, got to Oxley first and provided the initial round of rescue breathing.
Isabella Alvarez, another lifeguard and senior from New Orleans, reached Oxley and used a radio to call for EMS -- code red.
Evan Young, a senior from Mandeville and aquatics supervisor, arrived on the scene, saw the professor had a shallow pulse and did CPR compressions.
"All of a sudden I saw him stop breathing," Young said.
Oxley was taken to Our Lady of the Lake Hospital, where a defibrillator and pacemaker were installed.
The next day he was sending emails asking for the names of the students who helped.
He was out of the hospital two days after that.
Oxley suffered no heart or brain damage, which doctors attributed to the quick response.
"My cardiologist said that once I was in the ambulance I was with people who are professionals who do this every day," he said.
"But before then I was with people who never do this," he said. "The students were the heroes of this whole situation."
Aside from Estes, Alvarez and Young five other students pitched in, school officials said.
The whole episode was a surprise to Oxley and students alike.
He typically swims 4,200 yards per day, four days per week.
"The swim is not something unusual for me," he said.
"It is a regular part of my routine," Oxley said. "This is something I have been doing for 30 years."
He is fast-walking for exercise now, and hopes to resume swimming in a few weeks.
The slightly-built professor is from Melbourne, Australia.
He has worked at LSU for 37 years.
Oxley suffered a heart attack in 2002 and underwent triple bypass surgery at the time.
However, he has had regular checkups, and no problems, since then.
Alvarez, who was on a nearby lifeguard stand, said she first noticed Oxley's routine was off and he was spending more time under water than usual.
"Everything really happened in the span of 10 minutes," she said.
'You feel that adrenaline rush, fight or flight," said Estes, who is from Memphis.
Others praised the fast action.
"The immediate recognition and response of the team was phenomenal," Mike Chustz, public information officer with Baton Rouge EMS, said in a statement.
"Their actions allowed the emergency response system to work perfectly by initiating immediate CPR, defibrillation and notifying 911 as soon as possible," Chustz said.
"Without their initial response and treatment the outcome could have easily been much worse," he said.
Oxley said he had been involved in a math workshop throughout the day of the incident.
He said he remembers lifeguards rushing to his aid.
"The next thing I remember I was in an ambulance," he said. "I do not have much recollection until I was in the hospital."
Students at the center, known as UREC, undergo four-hour training sessions three times per year.
Lifeguards are required to finish 21.5 hours of basic lifeguard training and monthly in-service training.
Oxley appeared taken aback by the attention on Thursday.
He said repeatedly that the focus should be on the students, not him.
"What can I say? I am eternally grateful to them."
Students said that, while they train for such incidents, the episode left a mark.
"Afterwards I was pretty shaken up," said Young.
Alvarez said she was fine in the middle of the episode.
"As soon as I got to my car the breakdown commenced," she smiled.
©2019 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.