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News | March 11, 2024

Walter Reed doctors credited with saving the life of a gym patron

By Bernard Little

It’s not uncommon to hear about Walter Reed physicians saving lives within the walls of the iconic medical center, but it proved fortunate for one local gym patron suffering from a heart attack that two doctors from “the flagship of military medicine” were also getting in a workout at the same off-base facility on Feb. 25.

“I was working out with my son when [the gym’s public announcement system] called for a doctor by the elliptical machines,” shared Army Lt. Col. (Dr.) John Symons, a cardiac electrophysiologist at Walter Reed. “I ran over and found the person unresponsive and pulseless,” he added.

“I had on my headphones when my wife told me someone was looking for a doctor,” explained Army Maj. (Dr.) John Schacht. “I arrived at the scene and saw Dr. Symons already administering care. I asked what I could do to help, and he instructed me to grab the defibrillator. I ran [to get it], and when I arrived back, a woman was assisting [Symons] with CPR and performing some cycles of compressions.”

“Once we had the defibrillator, we hooked it up and immediately defibrillated the person and resumed CPR,” Symons continued. “After two minutes, we did a pulse check and determined we had recovered a pulse,” he added.

Symons and Schacht continued to provide care to the patient until emergency medical services personnel came on the scene and took the person to the hospital.

“[The patient] not only survived but was extubated the next day and remains neurologically intact,” said Army Col. (Dr.) Jason Blaylock, director of medical services at Walter Reed. “The heroic efforts of these two Walter Reed physicians saved this individual’s life and speaks volumes to their dedication to patient care and living the Army and Walter Reed values around the clock,” he added.

“I think the most important thing was [Symons] started high quality CPR right away, and the patient was defibrillated early,” said Schacht. “I didn’t realize until after the shock was given that Dr. Symons was the person providing care at the beginning. I know Dr. Symons [since] he has covered for us in the cardiogenetics clinic multiple times, and I have always appreciated his expertise and working with him in that clinic,” added Schacht, the Walter Reed genetics chief and the Army associate program director of the National Capital Consortium Pediatric Residency Program.

Symons, Walter Reed’s only cardiac electrophysiologist, credits the “’chain of survival’ [along] with early high-quality CPR and defibrillation with successful management of an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, which would otherwise be expected to have a dismal prognosis.”

A native of Manhattan, New York, Symons said he became a physician simply because he “wanted to make people live longer and feel better. I enjoy the technical nature of the work and that my interventions often make people feel better in a way that is immediate and obvious,” he shared.

“My work is very technically complicated and potentially dangerous. There are circumstances where if I am off by a millimeter, literally, it can mean the difference between a successful intervention and a catastrophic complication,” Symons explained.

A native of Alabama, Schacht shared similar reasons as those of Symons as to why he became a doctor.

“My father died of a brain tumor when I was in college,” Schacht shared. “This made me reflect on my own mortality and that I wanted to make a positive impact on other people and families that are suffering from health afflictions,” he continued.

“I initially chose pediatrics because I enjoy teaching healthy habits to children and families to help them optimize their development and health. During pediatric residency, I realized I was most interested in learning more about genetic conditions and that genetic testing is crucial to providing optimal care to patients and their families,” said Schacht.

“Many of my patients have complex health conditions that have presented a diagnostic challenge for a long time,” Schacht added. “I enjoy being able to spend a lot of time with my patients to try to figure out an underlying cause. It is like putting a puzzle together, but our team has to find some of the pieces that fit. It is a very rewarding when I can provide a diagnosis or closure for families that have been seeking answers for a long time.”
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