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“Deco Guy” to life saver, John Dwyer leads CPR efforts


John Dwyer is dedicated to teaching people what he wished he knew on the night of Dec. 4, 2017. That was when his husband and life partner Herb Millman suffered a massive heart attack.

From his regrets of not knowing CPR has grown a fiery determination to organize what is becoming a rite of spring in New Hope – an annual training event for cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and automated external defibrillator (AED) operation at the Eagle Fire Company.

Dwyer and Millman were well-known as the “Deco Guys” to many in New Hope where they owned Cockamamie’s and also appeared as regular celebrities on the QVC television network.

As New Hope’s first same sex married couple in a wedding officiated by Mayor Larry Keller in the spring of 2014, they passed another milestone in their lives with the closing of Cockamamie’s three years later. And while Millman was tending to his plans of continuing the shop online, he died suddenly at home in the middle of the night six months later.

The first of two classes organized by Dwyer was held June 5 on Millman’s birthday. A second class was held three days later.

“The state of Pennsylvania has an older population,” Dwyer explained at that first session, stating that while the average age in the state is 40, it is 50 in New Hope. “We have a great responsibility to ourselves and to our community to know CPR.”

Chiropractor Eric Pirrone also addressed the group. He stated that the first priority of healthy living is to quit smoking. Eating better is the second most important thing one can do. Pirrone stated that the last piece to a comprehensive healthy living regimen is exercise.

A group led by Nabil Abdulhay and Gus Totolos of the Mobile CPR Project and Community Impact Director Samantha Mogil of the American Heart Association focused on CPR and AED training, ultimately with hands-on exercises using CPR training manikins. As a special gift, a practice CPR manikin was distributed to each attendee at the end of the session.

“The bystander intervention rate in Philadelphia is 18 percent,” Abdulhay said, opening with the startling fact that if an individual falls to the ground in cardiac arrest in Philadelphia, there is only an 18 percent chance that a bystander will step forward and perform CPR prior to an ambulance’s arrival. That figure is about half of another disturbingly low figure – a national bystander rate of 35 percent.

There are bright spots, however. The city of Seattle has a bystander intervention rate of 70 percent, according to Abdulhay. He attributes the difference to the city’s proactive approach to prioritizing training, including large-scale instructional clinics, municipal mandates for public training and AED access, and the involvement of community hospitals in the training efforts.

“Seattle has always been at the forefront of technology when it comes to resuscitation science,” Abdulhay added. The higher bystander rates correlate directly with statistically significant improvement in survival rates as well as dramatically improved health outcomes for those who do survive.

Mogil added that recently passed state legislation in Pennsylvania will mandate training in CPR for high school students.

An important theme that the trainers discussed concerned liability exposure and the fear a would-be “Good Samaritan” might have about stepping forward and doing something.

“You are 100 percent protected,” said Abdulhay, adding that protection falls under “reasonable intervention” in the state of Pennsylvania. In fact, the Pennsylvania Good Samaritan Act was recently revised to include protection for any bystander without exception, including those who have not received training or certification. AED use is also fully protected, and with “talking” defibrillators (which were demonstrated by the team), their use is essentially foolproof.

Abdulhay explained that the role of training is to teach participants how to identify a victim of cardiac arrest, understand his or her role as a bystander, and how to properly perform CPR. “We exist because not enough people do CPR in Philadelphia and in surrounding counties,” he said.

Dwyer is leading the charge to have defibrillators installed in local public places. He said that in the entire Logan Square shopping center – which includes an expanded Giant supermarket and a Rite-Aid Pharmacy in a multi-building 700,000- square-foot shopping campus – he found no defibrillators. Thanks to his efforts, however, Giant now carries one.

“We’re trying to protect the ones that we love. And the symbol of love is the same thing we are trying to protect,” Dwyer said. “You make ‘living’ into ‘luving’ by making ‘u’ more important than ‘i.’”