It was a life-or-death situation at a Halifax movie theatre last week when a man in the audience went into cardiac arrest.

Earl Kiely is alive thanks to quick-thinking audience members who knew what to do.

Kiely nearly died, but now he's taking time to appreciate the simple things.

"I'm very grateful," Kiely said. "Gratitude is my number one mission in life now."

Kiely was at the movie theatre with his partner when his heart stopped working.

"They told me I went into cardiac arrest and it was a pretty close call because one out of eight people don't make it through it," Kiely said. "I guess I was a pretty lucky guy."

Kiely's partner Janet Bousquest was there with him.

"He was right beside me gasping and I just stood up and said, 'help, help' I was screaming, 'help, help,'" Bousquest said.

She says the theatre lights came on and people in the audience ran toward the couple to help.

"These guys dragged him down to the floor and I was pretty emotional," Bousquest said. "I thought I was going to lose him because they said there was no pulse no anything. They were doing CPR continuously, then they phoned 911 and they were talking to them and they were saying 'keep going at it, keep going at it,' cause they were saying 'no pulse, no pulse he's not there,' and then they ran in with the defibrillator and you could see Earl trying to breathe."

The couple is grateful that the movie theatre had an automated external defibrillator (AED) on site and that people in the audience knew how to use it.

"All I can say is these defibrillators should be everywhere from coast to coast," Bousquest said. "In theatres, restaurants, in stores, schools because it's known to happen. I'm glad they ran in with a defibrillator because Earl wouldn't be sitting here with me."

Mike Janczyszyn of Emergency Health Services (EHS) says the benefits of early access to defibrillation and bystander CPR are clear.

"Coming on scene, if I see someone who is doing high-quality CPR and there's a defibrillator on scene, then I know that that person, or patient, has had the best chance of survival," he said.

EHS is creating a database to show where AEDs are throughout the province and it wants all businesses and individuals who have one to register.

"We're trying to educate and make people aware," Janczyszyn said. "Hopefully, it brings some defibrillators out in the open instead of being behind closed doors or locked away."

With files from CTV Atlantic's Amy Stoodley.