Horton man's survival shows importance of knowing CPR

Published: Feb. 13, 2020 at 12:06 AM CST
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Zach Nelson loves his job teaching physical education at Horton Elementary.

"I love coaching, especially around little kids," he said. "It can be chaotic but it's fun."

In the chaos are some serious lessons about keeping your heart strong and healthy living.

Zach understands those lessons in a whole different way now.

It happened January 22, 2017 - the same day Royals' pitcher Yordano Ventura died in a car wreck.

"I was sitting in my office and heard that and thought wow - then this happened to me later that night," he recalls.

Zach was a special education teacher at the time, living in the small town of Victoria, Kan. He spent the day doing paperwork, played a basketball game, then went home to work some more.

"I was very tired and, to me, I just fell asleep. This was on a Sunday. I woke up on Thursday. I don't remember any conversations," Zach said.

Zach's wife, who was pregnant with their second child, had gone to bed. She heard his computer crash to the floor, and found him blue and not breathing. He had gone into what's called VFib, ventricular fibrillation.

"My heart had basically stopped pumping and started fluttering," Zach said.

His son, then five-years-old, unlocked the door to allow paramedics in, so his wife did not have to stop compressions. As she did CPR, a volunteer firefighter two houses down heard the 911 page and rushed to help. Their immediate response likely made all the difference.

"The doctors at KU Med said I had a five percent chance to survive," Zach said. "I was very lucky."

Doctors still don't know why it happened. Zach was 31 years old, healthy, in good shape. Today, he has an internal defibrillator.

"If it happens again, it should shock me," Zach said.

And while he loved special ed, he decided to lower stress and return to his first love, PE. The lessons he teaches hold even more meaning now.

"Being healthy, watching what we're eating, getting exercise," he said.

Zach's also learned to appreciate all he nearly missed. His daughter arrived four months after his cardiac arrest, and his son is now in second grade.

"(I'm) not taking the days for granted. No one's given tomorrow," he said. "I want to hang out with my family. They're the reason I'm here!"

Zach and his students will take part in the American Heart Association's Kids Heart Challenge next month. It supports efforts, like CPR lessons.

You can find information about hands-only CPR

. You also may visit

to find a CPR class near you, or to learn about the Kids Heart Challenge.