LAFAYETTE —For years, Gary Dodson put off attending free bystander CPR training held annually at the Cajundome.

But that changed this year, he told a crowd gathered in the lobby of Lafayette General Medical Center.

“You can make a difference. … Everyone needs to know it,” he said.

And no one knows that better than Dodson, who suffered a sudden cardiac arrest Jan. 9 while jogging in Girard Park.

“My heart stopped,” Dodson said.

Though onlookers called 911, no one started CPR — until Deedra Harrington arrived. Harrington, a nurse practitioner at Lafayette General, was driving around the park on her way back to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s campus, where she teaches in the nursing department, when she saw a small crowd gathered around Dodson. Harrington continued driving, assuming the man had the assistance he needed, but then instinct kicked in.

“I don’t know what made me turn around,” she said. “There were four people around him. Someone had called 911, but no one had started CPR.”

She continued the chest compressions until the ambulance arrived.

“This is truly miraculous,” said Dr. Christopher Daniels, Dodson’s cardiologist, of Harrington’s intervention.

The story for patients who suffer sudden cardiac arrest like Dodson rarely ends in success, Daniels said.

Dodson had a 99 percent blockage of his right coronary artery, Daniels said.

During a short recognition ceremony Friday afternoon, LGMC President and Chief Executive Officer David Callecod presented Harrington with the hospital’s “Making a Difference” award for her “actions above and beyond” on Jan. 9.

Dodson and Harrington both used the event as an opportunity to stress the importance of learning bystander CPR.

“I’m a living example: This is what knowing CPR can do,” Dodson said before the recognition ceremony.

This year’s “Be a Heartstarter” bystander CPR training will be on April 14 with sessions at 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., Callecod said. The free event is now in its 12th year and sponsored by the local medical community and businesses. About 12,000 people have received the training in the past decade, according to the event website.

Though she has specialized training as a medical professional, “advanced skills” aren’t needed to learn and perform bystander CPR, Harrington stressed.

“It’s the individuals in the community that make the difference,” she said.

Dodson will celebrate just how much on his on 66th birthday Feb. 23.