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Harm’s Way: How a son saved his dad with CPR

Ralph Harms
It’s a good thing Joe remembered—or I wouldn’t be here.

Ralph Harms has always been an athlete at the peak of conditioning. He worked out two hours a day, seven days a week for the past 50 years. A former Green Beret, he is also a Hall of Fame member of the Empire Runner’s Club in Sonoma County and a coach at the Salvation Army’s Double Punches boxing club in Santa Rosa. But he’ll tell you the most important thing he ever did was show his adult son Joe Harms how to do CPR.

Ralph, now 78, was playing golf with his son Joe and friend Doug Green on July 30, 2013. After a great shot at the fourth hole, Ralph remembers hollering, “Yeah, baby.” The next thing he remembers is waking up in the hospital three days later. Ralph had collapsed on the course in full cardiac arrest just seconds after that great shot. Though he says he was familiar with the signs and symptoms of a heart attack, “cardiac arrest is like walking up to a light switch and just turning it off,” he says. “There was no warning.”

About four years prior, Ralph and Joe were watching a football game together on T.V. When a commercial about CPR came on, Ralph asked his son if he was certified. The elder Harms had taken Red Cross CPR classes every two years for decades in order to keep his CPR certification active. His son had not yet done the same, and Ralph recalls getting on the floor to show Joe the proper way to do chest compressions.

“It’s a good thing Joe remembered—or I wouldn’t be here,” Ralph says. While his friend Doug called 9-1-1 with a cell phone, Joe began CPR. With paramedics en route, Ralph’s heart started and stopped three times. All the while, Joe continued chest compressions.

Ralph miraculously survived and spent three days in a drug-induced coma. He then had a triple bypass surgery and a later surgery to insert a pacemaker. The ordeal has made him ease up considerably on his workout methods while his body takes time to fully recover, a process that takes about a year, he said. Ralph knows it was his friend and son’s efforts and the CPR know-how that contributed to his survival. For that reason he shares his story.

Each year, an average of more than 9 million people gain the skills they need to prepare for and respond to emergencies through American Red Cross training classes, including First Aid, AED and CPR training.

Be A Hero. Learn lifesaving first aid and CPR skills at the Red Cross today. Like the Harms family, you may never know when it will come to good use, but you will sure be glad you took the time. Our easy-to-use online class finder can be found at