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Patient story: Rower applauds rescuers after scary cardiac arrest

Close-up of rowers and oars on the water

Olympian expresses gratitude to personal heroes for life-saving relay on Lake Whatcom

A scary day on Lake Whatcom

71-year-old Charles Hamlin, a 1968 Olympic rower, was training on Lake Whatcom in a four-person shell on Saturday, June 2, when he collapsed. His rowing teammates watched in shock as he leaned back and appeared to be having a seizure. Hamlin had suffered from sudden cardiac arrest.

An amazing rescue

Antonio Robinson, an off-duty firefighter and emergency medical technician from S. Snohomish Fire District One, was observing the teams from a flat-topped plastic boat used for coaching when he heard calls for help on the water. Robinson swam to the boat and transferred Hamlin from the four-person rowing shell to the chase boat and began CPR. Robinson provided CPR for 17 minutes in an inch of water while others on the flat-bottom boat worked to keep Hamlin from sliding back into the lake.  

The heroic efforts continued as Hamlin was transferred to the Medic Unit on shore and quickly resuscitated by firefighters and paramedics from the Bellingham Fire Department. He was then transported to PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center.

Life-saving care in record time

Many PeaceHealth caregivers played a role in Hamlin’s care. Jordan Barnhart, MD; Jesse Spychalla, RN; Tricia Kellen, RN; and Scott Lee, unit coordinator, of the Emergency Department; and Peyman Soltani, MD; David Myers, RCIS; Aaron Williams, RCIS; Lincoln Farabee, RN; and Jagmohan Toor, CNA, of the Cath Lab worked to ensure his survival after he arrived to the hospital. A stent was placed in the occluded artery, and Hamlin returned home two days later.

Julie Maarhuis, nurse manager, reported that the door to balloon (DOB) time was an impressive 58 minutes. The national standard DOB is 90 minutes. “The amazing teamwork started with the bystander who initiated CPR and the medics who rapidly responded,” she said. “The quick actions of the whole team make this such an incredible story and led to this positive outcome.”

A public display of gratitude

The cardiac arrest didn’t slow Hamlin down. He competed in the World Rowing Masters Regatta in Sarasota, Florida in September and won five rowing events. He presented his gold medals to all the responders who saved his life at a recognition ceremony on Dec. 8 at Lake Whatcom.


First responders share about their experience as Charles Hamlin honors them at a special ceremony.

“Miracle is almost too small of a word to describe my story. Incredible really doesn’t do it either, and unbelievable doesn’t really capture what happened,” he said as he gave the medals to Robinson and other first responders. “Thank you.”

Hamlin also returned to PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center to express his heartfelt appreciation to his caregiving team. He reported that he is very grateful to each person who played a role in saving his life, allowing him to spend more time on the water and live life to its fullest.