For more than 20 years, Robert Barney has earned his living by saving lives, providing emergency medical services to countless patients in and around his home of Waterford, New Jersey.
Last weekend at Dover International Speedway, those same skills displayed by at least a dozen people were used to save Barney’s life after he suffered from cardiac arrest in his RV at one the Monster Mile’s campgrounds.
After days of rest, treatment and recovery, Barney, 64, went home from a Camden, New Jersey, hospital on Thursday.
“I was just telling a friend, I feel like I got mugged by a polar bear,” Barney said Friday morning. “It felt great to sleep in my own bed.”
Late Saturday afternoon, Barney returned to his RV following the “Bar Harbor 200” presented by Sea Watch International NASCAR Xfinity Series playoff race. Barney and his wife Debra rode their bikes to and from the track, so they were well ahead of the rest of their group who had walked.
The visit to Dover has been a frequent stop for the Barneys, who have been married for 40 years and attending Monster Mile races for 35. Typically, the couple attends 6-9 NASCAR weekends each year including both at his “home track” of Dover.
Suddenly, Barney said he felt funny, and he sat down in a chair. Soon after that, he lost consciousness. After calling 911, Debra, a nurse, and a nearby friend started preliminary resuscitation efforts. Six minutes after the initial call, the first emergency personnel arrived.
Michael Scott Bundek, Dover International Speedway’s Emergency Services Coordinator, was one of the first responders at the scene.
“I believe the track’s plan worked perfectly in this case,” said Bundek, who has been chief of the Little Creek (Del.) Volunteer Fire Co. for 18 years and worked at Dover’s NASCAR events for two decades.
“Everything we had thought of, to the call going to the 911 center, to the [Joint Operations Center] to the JOC dispatching people to the scene, worked.
“In any urban setting, the average response time is eight minutes. We were there in six.”
In a span of just 17 minutes, seven people took turns providing compressions on Barney’s chest, while others helped clear his airways, provide IVs and work on shocking procedures. Barney was shocked four times from an automated external defibrillator in that time span. That aggressive team approach to CPR is known as “Pit Crew CPR.”
“The more compressions that are being done, the better the outcome for a cardiac patient,” Bundek said. “You have someone doing compressions, you have someone up on deck. Everybody has their own job. They switch out smoothly and fast with the minimum amount of down time, while you’re doing a pulse check or another check.
“I think this was a normal progression. Circulation was restarted almost immediately. Although his heart wasn’t beating on its own, it was being beaten for him.
“One or two people couldn’t have done it. At least six people are needed to do that effectively, and that includes clearing the airway, IV and the shocks.”
Debra Barney remembers at least a dozen people moving in and out of the RV during the rescue. She also remembers the 17 minutes feeling like an eternity.
“The response was amazing,” Debra says. “They were a well-oiled machine. They were even apologetic for walking on our couch.”
Thirty-four minutes after the initial 911 call, Barney was transported by ambulance to Bayhealth-Kent General Hospital in Dover, and was even talking to his caregivers along the way. He was soon transferred to Our Lady Of Lourdes Hospital in Camden, New Jersey, before being discharged on Thursday.
“This was the best-case scenario,” Bundek said. “The commitment that the track has had for EMS has been extremely beneficial through the years. We plan for the worst and hope for the best, and in this case both happened.”
Dover International Speedway hosts monthly public safety and emergency management meetings with the outside agencies that assist track personnel during the two NASCAR tripleheader weekends the track hosts, along with the Firefly Music Festival in June.
For his part, Barney was familiar with the “Pit Crew CPR” strategy long before his medical emergency.
“I’ve done it before,” Barney said. “Maybe not as elaborate as what I heard they were doing but something similar. The faster you start intervention, the better the outcome.
“Obviously, it worked.”
After some rest, future checkups are in Barney’s future, and maybe a bypass operation. But the dozens of friends the Barneys have made in campgrounds throughout NASCAR Nation are also hoping to see the couple back at the track in near future.
While Debra is aiming for Daytona next February to be their return, Robert has the goal of visiting Homestead on Nov. 18 to see one of his favorite Ford Racing drivers crowned as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion.
“I don’t want to be on my back celebrating a title,” Barney said. “I’m glad I still have the opportunity to follow my passion.”