For hours, auto mechanic Tim Hoffman leaned into the violently vibrating jackhammer, pressing it against his chest as he tried to pry off a rusty wheel hub that wouldn’t budge. At midday, he shut off the machine and sat down for lunch.

“That’s when I fell out of the chair and died,” said Hoffman, 45.

The jackhammer had disrupted his heart rhythm, causing sudden cardiac arrest. Co-worker Joshua Gagner and Coon Rapids police officers saved him with hands-only CPR and a portable automated external defibrillator (AED).

That was on Oct. 3. Last week, Hoffman met all of his lifesavers — the dispatchers, police officers, firefighters and EMTs — and gave his heartfelt endorsement for Coon Rapids’ “Heart Safe” campaign. The same day that Hoffman was revived, the city had earned its Heart Safe designation. Coon Rapids is the 25th Minnesota city to gain that classification from the state Department of Health and a group of nonprofits including the American Heart Association and Allina Health.

Being Heart Safe means the city is outfitted with AEDs — batteries charged — and citizens are trained to use them. It also means people are trained in hands-only CPR.

Coon Rapids police officer Bryan Platz launched the city’s campaign last winter. Too often, Platz said, he’d arrive at a call of sudden cardiac arrest to find bystanders either untrained or unwilling to help. Seconds count. Police and medics often don’t arrive in time, so bystanders are the critical link, Platz said.

The number of AEDs in the city has now increased from 23 to 107. Employees know where AEDs are stored and how to use them. Platz and Heart Safe volunteers also trained more than 1,300 Coon Rapids residents in hands-only CPR.

“We want to teach them not to be afraid but to take action,” Platz told the City Council at last week’s meeting. “People are afraid to act, that they will do more harm than good. People are paralyzed by fear. … I need more people willing to roll up their sleeves and get in and help.”

More to be done

Platz said that earning the designation doesn’t mean the work is done. His goal is to get 300 AEDs distributed throughout the city’s 600 businesses and to train half of the city’s population, or about 30,000 people, in hands-only CPR.

In the United States, only 8 percent of the 383,000 people who suffer out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrest each year survive, according to the American Heart Association. In Minnesota, the figure is about 14 percent.

Effective bystander CPR can double or triple the chance of survival, but bystanders intervene only about one-third of the time, experts say.

The biggest challenge, Platz said, is helping people overcome the fear that they’ll do something wrong and cause harm.

If someone collapses unconscious, the campaign teaches that bystanders should check for signs of life, call 911, have another bystander seek out an AED and then start hands-only CPR.

Taking fast action could save a life, advocates say.

“If someone has a sudden cardiac arrest, they are already technically dead. It’s always better to do something than nothing,” said Barbara Ducharme, senior director of community health with the American Heart Association.

Lives saved

In 2013, bystanders or emergency staff have revived people in 16 of the 29 witnessed incidents of sudden cardiac arrest in Coon Rapids, Platz said. Ten of the 16 died in the days and months after the incident, but six are alive today.

“That’s 20 percent,” Platz said. “ … We are doing something right here.”

Before last week’s City Council meeting. Hoffman and family members — wife Heidi, his children and parents — thanked all of his rescuers. One of them was Platz, who performed hands-only CPR.

“I don’t know how you guys hold it together. It must be nerve-racking,” Hoffman told them.

‘I have changed’

Hoffman, who works at a Coon Rapids car dealership and lives in Ramsey, said the experience has deeply affected him and has him reflecting on some of his own impatient, at times unkind behavior.

“I was the worst. Every little thing got to me and I was pretty good at letting [people] know. I have changed dramatically,” Hoffman said.

“There are a lot of people who are just amazing people, compassionate people. They are experienced. They are passionate. They are looking to save people’s lives.

“It’s incredible. It’s opened my eyes.”