FORT WALTON BEACH — David Dempsey looked flummoxed Wednesday morning when the staff members of Anytime Fitness in Fort Walton Beach handed him a “Get Well” gift basket.

“Why are you guys giving me a gift?” he said with a giant smile.

After all, the fitness facility’s employees and members already gave him the gift of saving his life after a heart attack a week earlier. The resident of Boulder City, Nevada, was in Fort Walton Beach visiting his former boss when he stopped at the gym for a leisurely bike ride — something he does every day.

“I come out here to relax a little bit, ride on the bike, and the next thing I know I’m in the hospital,” Dempsey said. “My kids came. Everybody came. It was scary. I don’t remember anything. I don’t remember working out. I don’t remember the ambulance.”

Dempsey, who is 68, suffered from a complete blockage of his left anterior descending artery — a heart attack often called "the widowmaker" because it frequently causes death.

“I’ve been in athletics all my life,” Dempsey said. “No doctor ever said, ‘Watch out for the widowmaker.’ That scares me. I’ve never heard of such a thing. It kinda makes me mad.”

Dempsey was more vibrant than ever, generous with laughter and jokes, as he returned to the gym to thank the people who kept him alive.


Dempsey is a healthy man.

He is an avid gym-goer, exercises daily and runs the Fontana Days Run half-marathon in California, every year. He ran it in 2 hours and 2 minutes less than a month ago. None of this was known when employees and members of Anytime Fitness spotted him slumped over unconscious on a recumbent bicycle around 9 a.m. June 18 — an hour before the gym is staffed, said owner Jenny Wenlund.

“We checked his pulse and he wasn’t breathing or anything like that,” Wenlund said. “We pushed our panic buttons. We called 9-1-1. We lifted him down and hooked him up to the AED machine and started CPR.”

From there, it was a blur.

“Everything happened so fast,” Wenlund said. “I was more emotional after it than during it, because it hits you all at once — what actually happened.”

A crew of five people surrounded Dempsey to help perform CPR and treat him with the automated external defibrillator, which likely saved his life.

Jackie Campbell was one of two employees of Allergy Partners of the Emerald Coast, located in the same shopping plaza, who walked over to help. They are trained to treat allergic reactions and systemic reactions.

“We were having a meeting and one of the ladies ran over and said, ‘Somebody is in distress and had passed out,’” Campbell said. “We came over and started what we were trained. We were very calm. If you’re in the medical field, you step in.”

Gym staff member Ravonne Evans arrived after they found Dempsey. What she saw impressed her.

“Everything played out perfectly the way they teach it in CPR classes,” Evans said. “Everyone had a job. When I got here, everyone was working. The biggest thing is to take action. Be the person that takes action when other people don’t.”

Wenlund estimates the ambulance arrived in seven minutes. It took Dempsey to Fort Walton Beach Medical Center, where he was placed in a medically induced coma and the doctor put a stent in the artery.

Dempsey was released from the hospital this week and feels a little better every day, he said. He’s already itching to work out again and even demonstrated his well-being by pedaling a few slow rounds Wednesday on the same bike where he had a heart attack.

“They told me to take it easy at first,” Dempsey said. “Don’t run 13 miles.”

Wenlund hopes what happened to the seemingly healthy man will spread awareness for people who might have unknown health conditions.

“Regardless of how healthy you are, get checked,” Wenlund said. “If you’re in a public place, make sure you’re (CPR) certified, because you never know when it could happen.”