‘A new perspective on life’: 6 months after suffering cardiac arrest at Planning Commission meeting, architect is back to work

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Allen Belot, center, is pictured with planning commissioners Gary Rexroad and Sharon Ashworth ahead of the Wednesday, July 26, 2023, Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission meeting. Rexroad and Ashworth administered CPR after Belot suffered a cardiac arrest at a January Planning Commission meeting.

Longtime Lawrence architect Allen Belot may now be in his 70s, but he’s in fine health. Lately, he’s even been running 2 or 3 miles most days of the week and lifting weights.

That’s all the more impressive given that as of this week, it’s only been six months since Belot’s heart stopped beating midway through a Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission meeting.

Shortly after presenting at the meeting, Belot collapsed. He’d suffered a cardiac arrest. But what initially was a frightening event became something of a miracle as Belot was not only revived but, half a year later, is now thriving as he nears the end of an extensive rehab process.

“… From my point of view, it’s an incredible story,” Belot told the Journal-World this past week. “In all honesty, I am better today than I was eight months ago as a result, overall. Physically and mentally and all around, I’m much better — a new perspective on life.”

Belot said the past six months have been a long road, but he’s recovered “beautifully.” That’s involved plenty of hard work, including two weeks of rehab with Kansas City’s Saint Luke’s hospital system and five months of rehab with occupational therapists at LMH Health.

He’s also had cardiac rehab, which he happened to finish up on Friday. He’s become close enough with the folks who have helped him through that process to joke about not wanting to leave.

“I will be completely free of all of my therapy and I am on the road to recovery — and really, I already am there,” Belot said Tuesday. “… When I had my 90-day visit with my cardiologist in Kansas City, he walked in the room and sat down and looked at me and said, ‘You are truly a miracle man.’”

If things had played out any differently that night in January, Belot said he wouldn’t be here today. It started with people in the room like planning commissioners Sharon Ashworth and Gary Rexroad, who were the first to react. Ashworth was the one who called 911, and both she and Rexroad administered CPR; Ashworth applied chest compressions and Rexroad performed mouth-to-mouth. Ashworth told the Journal-World earlier this week she vaguely remembers taking over for another individual in the room, though, perhaps a nurse.

Rexroad was quick to react in the first place because he and Belot had been chatting ahead of the meeting about a procedure Belot underwent just days earlier to place stents in his heart.

“I had a little bit of an advantage understanding what was going on because of that conversation up front,” Rexroad told the Journal-World Wednesday. “Had it not been for that, I might not have recognized as quickly as we did what was going on, but within just moments of that beginning, there were people on him getting him to the floor, evaluating where he was.”

The subsequent call to emergency services was especially fortuitous; Belot said the fire department unit that responded to the call happened to be passing by at Sixth and Massachusetts streets on its way back from another call.

“That probably had a lot to do with saving my life, because the care that they gave me right there on the spot really had a lot to do with me being revived and staying revived until I could recover,” Belot said. “Although I’m not trying to give anybody any extra credit — everybody just did a fabulous job.”

• • •

Belot isn’t just back to being physically active — he said he’s also returned to work at his office and is “having a blast.” He expressed gratitude to his clients and other friends who have offered their support during the past six months, which was a buoy while he wasn’t able to spend any time in his office.

Belot has even returned to City Hall a few times since January’s health scare, including for a Planning Commission meeting in June where he received a standing ovation. He’ll be back before the City Commission for another project in late August as he continues his return to business as usual.

As he’s recovered, Belot has also maintained contact with Rexroad, who was even invited to the family’s Easter gathering earlier this year. Rexroad, for his part, said he wasn’t expecting he’d be joining the entire family.

photo by: Gary Rexroad

Allen Belot poses for a photo with his family during their Easter gathering earlier this year. Just months earlier, Belot had collapsed at a Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission meeting after suffering a cardiac arrest.

“That was a really touching moment that just would not have been had not all those stars just aligned,” Rexroad said. “… It was just so rewarding to see Allen surrounded by dozens and dozens of family members.”

If there’s one key lesson to be learned from this experience, both Rexroad and Belot’s daughter, Ellen Roggemann, think it’s a simple one: learn CPR. Roggemann said she thinks people often don’t recognize the importance of CPR training, and you never know when it’ll come in handy.

Rexroad is a good example of that point — he said he’d never given CPR in a scenario like this before January.

“There wasn’t like any thinking, you didn’t have to go into the manual, you just take in the training,” Rexroad said. “That’s the thing that I would encourage everybody to take away from this, how important that is and how that can make the difference.”

Along with all the luck, Rexroad said the one defining, controllable element in Belot’s case was that there were people in the room trained in CPR who were able to act immediately.

“The outcome of this could’ve been different,” Belot said. “It could’ve been that I did survive, but I was debilitated to the point that I couldn’t function anymore in my life. So I am doubly thankful with all that’s happened to me.”

Folks in Lawrence who are interested in getting trained in CPR can find a list of upcoming classes on LMH Health’s website. The American Heart Association also offers training online.

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