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A Near-Fatal Cardiac Arrest, Then An Outpouring of Thanks for Manhattan Beach Police and Fire

Jun 11, 2020 09:47AM ● By Jeanne Fratello
On May 19, Manhattan Beach resident Chris Barra was driving at 15th and Manhattan Ave. when he went into sudden cardiac arrest, fell unconscious, and crashed his car. He survived, in part due to immediate action by a quick-thinking bystander, a Manhattan Beach police officer, and the Manhattan Beach Fire Department paramedics.

It turned out that Barra's cardiac event was one that only has a one percent survival rate outside of a hospital, but doctors credit those skilled on-the-scene interventions with saving his life. Now, his family wants to thank Manhattan Beach police and fire personnel.

"Every step of the way, this was complete and utter divine intervention," his wife Lory Barra told DigMB. "They talk about having 'all of your ducks in a row' - Well, every duck that needed to be in a row was there that day."

While Barra was in recovery, friends and family of the Barras made t-shirts that said #BarraStrong and "U.S. Army." (Barra is an Army Ranger and a Brigadier General in the Army Reserves; as well as a private wealth manager at UBS and a professor of military history at UCLA.) They sold 100 t-shirts and quickly raised $1,000 that the family plans to use as a gift to the police and fire departments. 

As the story spread, more people wanted to buy t-shirts, and Lory Barra has since ordered 200 more to sell.

"This story is absolutely incredible in the way that it’s just getting bigger and bigger and more positive," said Lory. "And it’s completely outweighing the negativity that’s going on."

A Devastating Heart Attack

The drama began when Chris Barra was driving home, suffered a cardiac arrest, fell unconscious, and crashed into an unoccupied parked car in downtown Manhattan Beach. (The crash did not hurt him or anyone else, according to his wife.)

A neighbor who saw the crash noted that the car's wheels were still spinning, meaning that Barra's foot was on the gas pedal. That Good Samaritan neighbor, Blaine Kuiper, reached into the open window (Barra never drives with his window open, but just happened to have it open that day) and was able to remove Barra's foot from the gas pedal and turn off the car.

MBPD Officer Jesse Garcia was the first officer on the scene and provided CPR to revive him.

(Last year, Leadership Manhattan Beach led a project to procure AEDs - automated external defibrillators - to Manhattan Beach police vehicles. Although MBPD says that the AED was not used by Officer Garcia, the Manhattan Beach police are more prepared than most to deal with cardiac situations because it is a rare and unusual benefit for police cars to be equipped with AEDs.)

Manhattan Beach Fire Department paramedics then arrived on the scene and again had to revive him. They then "high-tailed him fast to the hospital," according to Lory Barra. 

"Every one of those first responders was absolutely on point," she added.

Nevertheless, the situation was so dire that when a police officer came to notify Lory, he simply told her that she needed to go to the hospital. ("I'm sure he thought Chris was already gone," she noted.)

At the hospital, she was not able to see him because of COVID-19 restrictions. But that in itself was a ray of hope because it meant that he was still alive.

On the second day, doctors put him in a coma. After that, "he just kept having little positives," she said.

On the third day, he was awake and hand writing messages to her "with perfect spelling and punctuation." On the fourth day, he texted her. By the fifth day, he was signing in to Netflix. 

"One week later he didn’t just come out in a wheelchair; he walked out of there like a boss," said Lory.

Support From the Community

When Chris Barra arrived home, Lory was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support they received. 

"I cannot believe the outreach and the support and the prayers that this community has given to me," said Lory, who has two younger children, one of whom needs special care for Type 1 diabetes.

Neighbors and friends organized a meal train and grocery shopping that has sustained the family - along with their pet cockatoo and giant tortoise - for weeks.

The t-shirt project was a surprise to Lory but she has fully embraced it. Her goal is to raise money that the family will donate to the police and fire departments to use as they see fit. "If they want to have a big party, they can use it for a party," she said. "Just the fact that we could do something for them would be great."

Hearing about their story has also inspired others to give thanks to the police and fire departments. American Martyrs School third- and sixth-grade classes wrote thank you letters to the police department. And one gentleman told Lory that the fire department had once saved his life, and he had written a letter of thanks but never delivered it, so this event had inspired him to complete that mission.

"I think that’s the thing that’s keeping me strong and keeping me going," said Lory. "It’s spiraling in an upward, uplifting direction at at time when the world is kind of 'hell in a handbag.'"

"Things happen for a reason," she added. "If this is Chris’s legacy of bringing people together, or causing people to pray more or, or help a stranger - that's a good thing in life to have."

To order a #BarraStrong t-shirt, text Lory Barra at 310-408-1119.

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