Some Disney magic was at work last November when Jonathan Hika went into cardiac arrest and collapsed after crossing the finish line of the Super Heroes Half-Marathon in Anaheim.
Paramedics with Anaheim Fire & Rescue were among the first responders who performed life-saving CPR on Hika. After seven days at UCI Medical Center, Hika opened his eyes and learned he had a malignant anomalous coronary artery since birth that pinched off blood to his heart.
“Not everyone gets to die at Disneyland and come back,” Hika said.
Hika, a 35-year-old San Diego resident, returned to Disneyland on Saturday, Jan. 14 to cheer on a friend running in the Star Wars Half Marathon – The Light Side. He also used the visit as an opportunity to reunite with the first responders who saved his life.
Hika considers himself lucky because the cardiac arrest could have happened during his basic training as a soldier with the Pennsylvania National Guard or on one of his training runs for the 10K at Disneyland. In either of these situations, Hika said he probably wouldn’t have received the immediate care that saved his life.
“It happened here because it needed to happen here,” Hika said.
The resort hires a private medical organization, Florida Hospital Celebration Health, to provide first aid to its marathon runners. Chester Grane III, an EMT with this group, was the first to see Hika go down.
“His eyes were open but when we moved him that’s when we realized he had no pulse,” Grane said.
Celebration Health staffers used an automated external defibrillator to shock Hika’s heart.
Jonathan Strickland III was one of the AFR paramedics who came to the aid of an unconscious and unresponsive Hika, performing CPR on Hika during the seven-minute ride to the emergency room.
“You’ve got to be able to keep your cool and focus,” Strickland said. “I’m lucky to work for a department that takes continuing education very seriously, so when something like that happens, we are able to effect a positive outcome.”
There were other partners involved in the life-saving incident, including Disneyland nurses, members of Care Ambulance and the Anaheim Police Department — personnel who all worked as a team.
Strickland knew at a young age that he wanted to join AFR because his father has worked for the department since the early ’90s. He remembers doing ride-alongs with his dad and grew up seeing the other firefighters’ family members as his extended family.
The importance of community service also is one of the lessons Strickland learned from his father’s career as a firefighter.
“It’s like second nature,” he said. “That’s my day-to-day. It always has been and it always will be.”
Capt. Dave Barry, one of the other paramedics who responded to the cardiac arrest call, told Hika the reunion was special because paramedics often don’t hear what happens to their patients after transporting them to a hospital.
“We don’t get to see this a lot,” Barry said. “Most people don’t survive cardiac arrest and then we don’t get to see someone doing as well as you are.”