Community | Heart and Vascular

Tony Parker has always been an active runner and has long supported the Greenville running and biking community. When he collapsed near the finish line of a 5K road race due to cardiac arrest, quick action saved his life.

Tony was scheduled to run the half marathon that morning back in March of 2021, but backed down to the 5K after his knee started bothering him. It also gave him the chance to run alongside his wife, Delia. It turned out to be a life-saving choice.

“If it weren’t for Delia and the fact that she knows CPR, I wouldn’t be here today,” Parker said. “And if it weren’t for the city of Greenville and the rescue paramedic squads with their AED (automated external defibrillator), I wouldn’t be here today.”

He said he remembers running ahead of his group, including his wife, in the last stretch of the run since his knee was feeling better than anticipated. He patted a young runner on the back to encourage them and then he collapsed.

Delia, a dental assistant with the Department of Veterans Affairs, was required to take CPR courses every three months as part of her job training. That morning, her training paid off in a way she never imagined.

“I got up to the corner and I heard somebody shouting, ‘Man down.’ And when I turned the corner, I was like, that’s Tony,” Delia said.

Delia yelled for someone to call 911 and checked her husband for a pulse, but found none. So she started CPR.

“No one tells you when you’re training on a mannequin that you’ll hear crunching. No one tells you on a mannequin that it’s a different feeling when you’re pushing on somebody’s chest. And it was a little freaky when I first did it, but I was able to stay where I was and to do the compressions,” Delia said. “Someone, ‘Angel,’ as he liked to call them, came up and said, ‘Can I help you?’ They took over and I did some breaths for him.”

Tony and Delia still have not been able to track down the mystery “Angel” from that morning who helped them with CPR.

Shortly after, paramedics arrived and took over. They told Delia that Tony had been revived and he was on his way to ECU Health Medical Center. Paramedics could quickly identify Tony and his wife because he was wearing a road ID, which gives paramedics information on a person, should an emergency event occur. Tony and Delia said they encourage people in their running and biking groups to wear a road ID for these situations.

Delia met Tony at the hospital and some tension was relieved when Tony greeted her with his nickname for her – “Hiya, toots.”

Tony spent about a week at the hospital while the care team ran tests and navigated next steps for the Parker family. They said their time at the hospital and in clinics since has been reassuring and helpful as Tony adjusted to his new normal.

“The care there was incredible. When I say care, I mean that as the word of choice. They really care about what they’re doing and they make sure that they take care of you,” Tony said. “For somebody with a personality like mine, they make sure I don’t try to overdo it right away. The follow up has been spectacular. They stay in contact with my primary care doctor so we’re all on the same page as to what’s going on. ECU Health has been incredible.”

Dr. Christopher Gregory, an interventional cardiologist with ECU Health, said cardiac arrest can come on with no symptoms in some patients and out-of-hospital cardiac arrests are very uncommon to survive due to how quickly care is needed in these cases. Though they may seem similar, Dr. Gregory said it’s important to know the difference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest.

“Heart attacks are when the blood flow to the heart, because of blockages in the arteries, generally speaking, that feed the heart, is impaired,” Dr. Gregory said. “That causes the heart muscle to be stressed, strain or even die – that’s a heart attack. Cardiac arrest is when the heart itself stops. Sometimes heart attacks cause cardiac arrest, but they are completely different.”

Today, Tony is back out walking, running and biking as often as possible. He’s involved in groups of athletes that have experienced heart attacks, cardiac arrest or other heart health challenges and he said this has given him a great perspective on his own journey. As an advocate, Tony meets with groups around the state to stress the importance of road IDs, greater access to AEDs and the need to stay active throughout your life.

“I would rather be an active participant in life than a passive participant and I’ve seen the difference it’s made in the lives of people around me,” Tony said. “My father was very active and his quality of life was excellent. He did have a stroke that impacted him, but he was still walking and getting out there. He played senior games basketball at 86 years old. So when you see the difference, you understand.”

Learn more about ECU Health Heart & Vascular Care.