TACOMA — Talking as old men will, a friend told Doug McArthur the only thing he feared about death was the pain.
“A year ago, I died — and there was no pain,” the 84-year-old McArthur said.
He wasn’t exaggerating. On Aug. 29, 2012, McArthur was playing a round at the nine-hole Highlands Golf Course, near his Tacoma home. After teeing off on the first hole, he was lining up a putt on the green.
And dropped dead.
On the tee behind him, attorney James Lynch knew it was bad. McArthur hadn’t even thrown out his arms to break his fall. Lynch ran more than 100 yards and began CPR.
“My wife got there in five minutes, and they were still working on me,” said McArthur, a victim of sudden cardiac arrest. “She rode to the hospital with me.”
What saved him, along with Lynch’s quick action, was the defibrillator that paramedics used to restart his heart.
Without defibrillators, according to the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Association, 9 of 10 victims die.
Sudden cardiac arrest, also known as SCA, is not the same as a heart attack, says Carol Mathewson of Tacoma.
“A heart attack is a plumbing problem, where blood isn’t getting to the heart,” Mathewson said. “An SCA is an electrical problem.”
That’s an accurate, simple explanation for a condition that strikes nearly 350,000 Americans each year. Last year, McArthur was one. In 2008, so was Mathewson — who lives on the same Tacoma street.
On Aug. 29, the anniversary of McArthur’s episode, the Tacoma-Pierce County chapter of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Association will host a golf tournament at Highlands with a dinner, raffle and auction that evening.
All proceeds go to purchasing automated external defibrillators for schools in Tacoma and Pierce County. Young athletes and students are vulnerable to sudden cardiac arrest, yet only a few Tacoma schools have AEDs.
“An assessment by the Tacoma Fire Department said their schools needed 71 AEDs, and if you buy them in bulk they cost about $1,200 apiece,” McArthur said. “This isn’t a one-year goal. It might be a 10-year goal, but we’re going to get them in schools.”
Anyone doubting the necessity can visit the website parentheartwatch.org and click under the headline “News.” The accounts of young SCA victims are almost daily occurrences.
Five years ago, Mathewson had hers while swimming in a Seattle triathlon with her daughter. Her husband was on hand to cheer them both on.
“We went off in waves, and I was in the first wave,” said Mathewson, now 61. “My daughter took a photograph of me just before I went in.”
About 20 yards offshore, Mathewson had sudden cardiac arrest and sank. Neither her daughter, still on shore a few waves back, nor her husband saw it.
“Two men on a rescue boat got me aboard and started CPR,” she said. “By the time my husband realized something had happened, he got there just in time to see the ambulance pull away. They described me to a tee — and told him I was dead.”
Defibrillators got her heart going again. Mathewson spent the next three weeks in a hospital, and six months after that in physical therapy.
McArthur was more fortunate.
“I wasn’t in the water and she was,” he said. “Carol almost drowned on top of everything else.”
Last May, nearly nine months after his SCA, McArthur returned to Highlands for the first time, walking the same course where he’d flat-lined in August. It was a milestone.
“I had a hole in one,” McArthur said, laughing. “It was my fifth!”
McArthur will play Highlands again in this month’s fundraising tournament. His guest will be Lynch, the attorney who helped save his life.
“After the tournament, we’re going to select four golfers at random for a $100,000 hole-in-one contest on the final hole,” McArthur said. “Now that could really make the day special.”
Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638