Alicia (Decker) Bravo ’02 is well known around Minnesota’s Twin Cities. Through TV, radio, newspapers, speeches, and even highway billboards, she promotes bystander CPR and early defibrillation. The emergency medicine nurse has long known that cardiopulmonary resuscitation is key in saving lives, but in summer 2017 her own life was saved through CPR and a defibrillator shock to restart her heart. The experience gave Bravo a new mission—to encourage others to learn CPR. “If one person can learn CPR because of me and then can save a life, that would be my biggest dream,” she says.
That summer, Bravo was looking forward to getting in some triathlon workouts at her parents’ lake home. Shortly before the Fourth of July, she and her husband, Mike Bravo, and their sons, Jack and Nolan, drove from their home in Shakopee, Minn., to Cambridge, Wis., to the home of her parents, Joanne (Wells) Decker ’72 and Bill Decker ’71. For the first time in years, her siblings and their spouses, including Brian Decker ’97, Andrea (Decker) Olson ’98, and Jaime (Leimer) Decker ’99, would be there too. While some of them went running the first morning, Bravo decided to swim across the lake. She asked her father to trail her in his boat, and her sister Andrea, brother-in-law, and three nieces came along.
Bravo doesn’t remember any of this. The last thing she recalls is packing bags for the trip to Cambridge. Her family filled her in on the next events, and this is what she says in her talks. “So I was swimming and I stopped and looked up at my dad and mouthed the word ‘Help.’ He threw me a flotation device and I didn’t move or go after it, so he yelled at my sister to get me out of the water. She just dove in, having no idea what was going on, and swam to me. I whispered the word ‘Breathe’ to her twice before going unconscious,” Bravo says. “Andrea swam my lifeless body back to the boat, and my dad hoisted me in and realized I didn’t have a pulse and wasn’t breathing. He immediately started CPR. My brother-in-law called 911, and my sister drove the boat back to the dock.”
For 20 minutes, Bravo’s father, husband, a firefighter neighbor, and then paramedics did manual CPR on her, much of it at the end of a dock. Needing more space, the paramedics put her onto a backboard and connected her to a Lucas machine, an automated compression device that does perfect CPR. They were able to carry her to land, never ceasing CPR. The paramedics then put defibrillation pads on her and with one shock got her heart beating.
Still unconscious, Bravo was taken to a Madison hospital and put into a coma during which her body was cooled for 24 hours and then slowly warmed. On July 4, she awoke, feeling chilled but otherwise fine. “I feel fine, so let’s get out of here,” she told the doctors. Not so fast, though. Having determined Bravo had had a sudden cardiac arrest, they needed to learn how to prevent it happening again. In the end, she had a pacemaker installed.
Because so many of those near Bravo when her heart stopped beating knew CPR, her brain was never deprived of oxygen, and with the pacemaker, she is as good as new. She is now dedicated to spreading the word that simple CPR skills can save lives. Later that summer, Bravo and former classmate Erin Shadwick ’02 brainstormed a CPR training event. “I wanted to teach people bystander CPR in a really fun way. Getting CPR certified takes three hours, but we can teach bystander CPR in five or ten minutes,” Bravo says.
The event, Pump and Pints, at a Shakopee brewpub, trained more than 100 people and raised $12,000. The money went to the Cambridge EMS that had helped save Bravo’s life. She has since become a spokesperson for the American Heart Association, raised funds to place AED equipment in the Shakopee Schools and at a sports complex, and has told her story to countless audiences. This is her new normal. “I just want to save the world. Educating people so they can save a life, it’s like I saved their world.”