CPR training offered to division workers after 2 heart attacks

By Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor
Photos by Eric Owens, CDCR Staff Photographer

After two CDCR employees were stricken with heart attacks within a year of each other, and saved by a fellow employee, one Division in CDCR decided to give others the tools necessary to help – CPR training.

“We pitched the idea to Director Deborah Hysen,” said Capt. Bill Barella, with Facility Planning, Construction and Management (FPCM). “She said to do it and to teach it to as many people as we can.”

While custody staff members are required to received CPR and first-aid training, there is no such requirement for other employees.

“We are offering this training based on CDCR employee Deric Johnson,” said the Captain. “He’s non-custody and knew CPR and saved two individuals.”

From tennis court to hospital

Capt. Joe Cocke, with Design Standards and Service in FPCM, was doing what he enjoyed on a warm summer day a year ago. He and coworker Deric Johnson were playing tennis.

Capt. Joe Cocke suffered a cardiac arrest a year ago.  He said he's happy to see so many coworkers taking CPR training.

Capt. Joe Cocke suffered a cardiac arrest a year ago. He said he’s happy to see so many coworkers taking CPR training.

“I’ve been playing tennis twice a week for years,” said Capt. Cocke. “We were about seven games into. We were taking a water break and I collapsed.”

At first, Johnson didn’t know what was happening.

“Deric thought I was messing with him because I can be kind of a kidder,” said Capt. Cocke. “Then he rolled me over and saw I was blue and not breathing.”

Johnson called for help and started CPR.

Nearby, taking advantage of the park, were two sisters taking wedding photos with their family. The sisters, and their mother, happened to be nurses.

“They’d only been there about five minutes because I saw them when they came into the park,” said Capt. Cocke.

“The family came down. They helped Deric, as he was administering CPR,” he said. “They said they worked on me for seven minutes with no pulse.”

By then an ambulance arrived and one of the paramedics said,” he’s done,” according to Capt. Cocke.

“One of the nurses said she told him I wasn’t done and kept working on me,” he said. “Then they defibrillated me and that’s why I came back to life and started fighting. They had to strap me down because I didn’t know what was happening.”

Capt. Cocke credits Deric Johnson with saving his life in those first crucial moments.

“Deric is a retired Air Force chief and had CPR in his military career. He’s the one who yelled for help and started CPR,” he said. “If I hadn’t had the proper CPR, I wouldn’t have had the blood flowing through me and I would’ve have suffered brain damage.”

Capt. Cocke said his arteries were clear and the doctors believe it was caused by an electrolyte imbalance so a pacemaker/defibrillator was implanted.

“So far, I’ve never had to use it,” he said.

Capt. Barella isn’t discussing the second cardiac arrest incident because the employee is still recovering.

“It was recent,” he said.

The response

“We have 350 employees in our building,” said Capt. Barella. “We put out the flyer announcing training and we have over 150 responses. This week alone, we are training 90 people.”

Realizing they needed help, they reached out to others in CDCR.

Out of a 350-person building, 150 signed up for CPR training.

Out of a 350-person building, 150 signed up for CPR training.

“Sgt. Victor Rogers got the ball rolling on this,” said Capt. Barella. “He got the instructors together and we had to pull instructors from other divisions and offices. The Academy is loaning an instructor.”

Capt. Cocke shares his story with each class as they begin their training.

“It makes me really happy to see people doing the training,” he said. “As I told them, they are taking the first step to being somebody’s angel. Throughout life, sometimes we are somebody’s angel helping in our own way. Maybe they can be somebody’s angel like I know I had mine help me a year ago.”

The students are learning basic first aid and automatic external defibrillator as well as adult and infant CPR.

“FPCM employees are offered free CPR certified training and we’re offering re-certification to peace officers,” Capt. Barella said.

For those not in FPCM, he advises speaking with the person in charge of training where you work.

“People should seek out the training person in their division,” he said. “If they have peace officers in the building, chances are they will offer the training. Of course, anyone who works in a prison can take the training when it’s offered there.”

It can happen any time

Deric Johnson said while he’s had the proper training and refresher courses, he’s never experienced incidents such as those recent two in which his skills were needed.

“I’m 54 years old and I’ve never seen anything like that and now I’ve seen it twice in the same year,” he said.

There wasn’t any warning and he needed to quickly react.

“I think it’s pretty darned important to be trained,” he said. “I had a bunch of training because I was in the military. When you’re in a situation like that, it’s imperative you know what steps you need to take.”

Asked who he thinks should take CPR and first aid classes, he’s also quick with his response.

“I think it’s a good thing for anybody to have,” he said.