Survivors, first responders share close calls to encourage residents to learn CPR
A visit from emergency medical services is usually the sign of a very bad day.
It could mean you suffered a serious fall while hiking in the backcountry, a family member was traumatically injured in a car crash, a friend suddenly lost consciousness from an undiagnosed medical condition or any number of other possibilities.
But when circumstances turn dire, and the grip of panic and fear begins to tighten, it is the effort of those emergency workers — and sometimes an everyday citizen rising to meet an incredible challenge — that often makes the difference between life and death.
Summit County is observing the 46th annual National EMS Week from May 16-22, a time to step back and appreciate the first responders who work tirelessly to ensure community members faced with disaster are able to return home to their loved ones.
For Illinois resident Tim Heuring, who suffered a heart attack while skiing in March, that’s no exaggeration.
“It’s amazing how much they did for me,” Heuring said. “These guys gave me another chance at life. I’m a 42-year-old man who has an 8-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter, and we are forever grateful for the people who were at work that day. It really underscores the importance of what they do on a day-to-day basis.”
On March 29, Heuring was taking his first ski lesson at Breckenridge Ski Resort with his wife, Meghan. The two were on their way down a beginner slope when Heuring told his wife he was feeling tired, Meghan said. He collapsed on the next run, and doctors later discovered that he suffered a ST-elevated myocardial infarction, a deadly type of heart attack that occurs when there is a near-total blockage of a coronary artery that supplies blood to the heart, according to Summit Fire & EMS.
Meghan, a pharmacist like her husband, called for help and began administering CPR with the assistance of an off-duty doctor and firefighter who were nearby. Ski patrol arrived shortly thereafter, continuing CPR and applying the first automatic external defibrillator shock to his chest in hopes of restoring a normal heart rhythm. Medics with the Red, White & Blue Fire Protection District transported Heuring to St. Anthony Summit Medical Center, where doctors broke up the clot with medicine. A Flight for Life crew later transported him to St. Anthony Hospital on the Front Range via ambulance.
At the hospital, medical workers inserted a stent and were able to stabilize him. By that time, medical professionals had administered more than 60 life-saving shocks to his heart.
For emergency workers, Heuring’s resuscitation reflects how cooperative efforts through different agencies can help save lives.
“This could not have happened without every member of the team across every agency acting in sync,” Red, White & Blue Division Chief of EMS Jim Levi said. “We are proud to be serving alongside so many highly qualified, dedicated professionals in the emergency medical system here in Summit County.”
For the Heuring family, the emergency workers provided them with a chance to return to a normal life.
Meghan said her husband started cardiac rehab when he returned home, and that he’s already getting back to the active lifestyle he enjoys, playing games of horse against his daughter, Chloe, in the driveway.
The family is planning to return to Breckenridge — where Tim and Meghan were married — this summer, though any future ski trips are likely off the table, Meghan said.
“It’s difficult to this day to just believe that he’s still here,” Meghan said. “He shouldn’t be here, honestly. … You don’t realize how much each day in normal conversations we say things like, ‘Life is too short.’ And it really is. For us now, it’s trying to balance that with hoping to have a long life. … You do have a new appreciation for little things — getting to have breakfast with your kids in the morning instead of rushing to work.
“It’s been a good realization of some changes that we need to make, and gratitude, too, for the people that do this job. Both being in the medical field, we understand a lot of times you just lose the sense of why you’re doing it. … It really puts into perspective that you’re doing something for someone.”
An outstanding bystander
While emergency medical workers are the experts, that doesn’t mean bystanders can’t help to make a difference, as well.
On May 12, Red, White & Blue presented longtime Summit County resident Joel Richards with a Lifesaving Award for his selfless response in helping an unconscious man.
Last fall, Richards was driving down Main Street in Breckenridge when he spotted a group gathered around a collapsed cyclist. Taking lessons learned years ago in a CPR class, Richards began chest compressions and rescue breaths on the man. Red, White & Blue responders arrived on scene to defibrillate the man shortly thereafter, but officials said Richards’ actions undoubtedly helped save the man’s life.
According to the American Heart Association, bystander intervention with CPR is vital. According to 2014 data, about 45% of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest victims survived when a bystander administered CPR. Though, only about 46% of people actually get the help they need after suffering a heart attack and before medical professionals arrive. Often, bystanders are present but don’t administer CPR because they don’t know how, fear legal ramification or think they might hurt the individual more, according to Red, White & Blue.
In Summit County, emergency services have made resuscitation training a top priority. The county’s cardiac arrest survival rate climbed from just 11.5% in 2019 to more than 47% in 2020. The national survival rate is about 8.5%, according to Summit Fire & EMS.
“We worked 21 (cardiac arrest) patients last year in Summit County, and 10 walked out of the hospital,” Summit Fire’s Clinical Practices Manager Jenn Oese said. “Already in 2021, we’ve had three patients survive. We’re dedicated to always learning more in an effort to give these patients a better chance at survival.”
To that end, groups around the county are trying to get more residents comfortable administering CPR. This week, local nonprofit Starting Hearts is offering free, 45-minute CPR classes called Call Push Shock, which teaches individuals how to perform CPR and use a defibrillator. Classes can be scheduled by contacting the nonprofit at email@example.com or 970-763-5306, ext. 700.
Other events to support EMS activities will take place throughout the week. Summit Fire is hosting a blood drive at the Summit County Community and Senior Center on Tuesday, May 18. Appointments can be scheduled at Vitalant.org. Additional blood drives are scheduled for July 14 and Dec. 8.
On Wednesday, May 19, teachers at Summit High School will be playing a video teaching students how to perform CPR. On Thursday, May 20, and Friday, May 21, Summit County’s emergency response organization will be putting out information to support seat belt use and proper child-seat safety in the community. And on Saturday, May 22, Summit Fire will release a video tribute to first responders and EMS workers in the county.
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