I have been a First Responder (Fire/EMS) for 43 years, 32 as a paramedic. I have seen a lot of suffering and lifesaving through the years. I have helped many people achieve a dream of becoming a firefighter or medic. Some of them today are Chief Officers, Supervisors, or other leaders in the Fire/EMS world. All of this I have taken great pride in doing the best that I can and set the best example I could for others. Little did I know that last July, 2017, I would be the person in need that I would collapse and require the skills of others to save my life. Many people talk about me being lucky, “it wasn’t your time”, “God was in control”. Well, they are mostly right on all parts, especially God was in control first and foremost, but I feel there were a few things I did right to help along the way.
July 2017 I was a member of the Bay Area Council, Boy Scouts of America, contingent to the 2017 National Boy Scout Jamboree. This was one event in my youth career in scouting that I did not get to participate. I was a leader in one of our Adventure Crews with my Son, Andy. Our trip to Jamboree featured several stops along the way with our arrival at Jamboree early morning of July 19th. We set up camp and on the next day the crew from the flatlands of the Gulf Coast of Texas hiked up to one of the taller mountains at Jamboree, something that pushed limits of being in good physical shape. On Sunday, July 23rd, in the afternoon I was at our campsite with some of the members of our crew when I collapsed in cardiac arrest. Medical Teams at the Jamboree quickly responded to start resuscitation. One of the leaders that was there told me our crew went into action to get help and keep others back, so that medical teams could get to me. Once my pulse was restored I was transported to camp hospital where a helicopter was on standby to fly me to Raleigh General Hospital in Beckley, WV. While in the Cath Lab at Raleigh, I arrested a second time. After return of pulse a stent was placed in my mid right coronary artery. Later I developed an in-stent thrombus, 3rd arrest, where four additional stents were placed in the artery. There was concern over severity of blockage in other coronary arteries that arrangements were made for transfer to St. Mary’s Hospital in Huntington, WV for possible by-pass surgery. I was in cardiogenic shock, several medicine drips for pressure support, heart arrhythmias, and sedation; I was also intubated on a ventilator, and intra-aortic balloon pump to help my heart pump more efficiently.
On arrival at St. Mary’s I was in critical condition. Due to my condition notes by Surgeon was to defer by-pass surgery and begin medical optimization. Kathy tells me that I had about 12 different medications infusing through my IVs and when it was time for a “time-out” from the sedation each day that I would start thrashing my head and to keep my left leg still with the balloon pump would require 4 – 5 people. I had several days of dialysis, due to low urine output and cardiogenic shock. The balloon pump was removed on Day 3 and the breathing tube and ventilator was removed on Day 7. Sometime around August 2nd I woke up, fortunately Kathy was the first person I saw. I will say now, at no time did I see any lights. I remember first couple of days at Jamboree, event was on Day 5, and I just woke up. Kathy had to tell me what had happened as I was trying to focus and figure out where I was.
After about a week after waking up I had to learn all about how to walk and how to eat/swallow. The scariest part of all of this is the feeling of helplessness. Some of the basic life functions that we all take for granted every day, and you can’t do them. At first I was really scared, not knowing what I was going to be able to do to continue to support my family, to help Andy finish Eagle Scout, what was happening with the jobs and tasks I was doing before all of this happening. While I was trying to get a grip on everything, Kathy told me how the Jamboree Medical Staff and Crew Leaders checked on her and me, the support of the Scouting Brotherhood. Shortly after waking I had visits from the Fire Brotherhood. Chief Jan Rader, Huntington Fire Department came several times, each visit with other Huntington Firefighters. Chesapeake, Ohio VFD, and Mount Hope, WV FD, one of the agencies who came to my aid at Jamboree.
Learning how to walk again, never felt as helpless as the first time I went to stand up with Physical Therapist and I couldn’t. Taking a couple days just to walk from my bed to the door. Yes, I eventually made it down the hall and around the ICU. There was a time that we tried to get me transferred to Galveston, insurance would not approve. Discussions then started on what would be the needs for me to fly home. I have to say that when the Medical Staff started talking about life vest, being able to monitor and deliver a shock if needed really had me scared about flying. Afternoon of August 8th doctors decided during the afternoon rounds that an Echo would be done in the morning to see how well my heart was functioning. The next morning shortly after morning blood draws the Echo was done. A few hours later the nurses came in to see Kathy and me with the biggest grins on their faces. We were told that my Ejection Fraction of my heart was 55%, back to normal, I didn’t need the life vest, I can go home, start making the plans to fly home, the discharge planning and orders were in process. Kathy started on flights, car rental, etc. For nursing staff, they had to laugh, as they had to check with another department on how to discharge a patient home, as they didn’t normally do that in the ICU at least that is what they said. After we had a small party for the “miracle man”, Kathy and I headed to Charlotte, NC to fly home the next day.
My LCVFD Family picked us up at Hobby Airport. Each station had a truck at our house as we arrived, what a great site. It truly was a blessing of God, Scouting, and Fire Department families that made this happen so smoothly.
God is great, to look back on all of this to see how He knew what was going to happen, and have everything in place has been most remarkable to me.
For a couple of years we had the Jamboree Contingency of 2 troops and 3 crews working to become a team. Two months prior to Jamboree, on our last shake down campout, a member of my Crew had to back out of going. His replacement was a young man who is an EMT, the EMT who recognized me in trouble and started CPR. Being at Jamboree the Medical Teams have Physicians on the teams. This put the highest level of medical care on any situation at the Jamboree, not having to wait for arrival at a hospital for physician care.
Shortly after I awoke and learned of my situation, a song kept playing over and over in my mind, the song was “Have Faith in God”. The Holy Spirit was telling me everything was in God’s control and I needed to let Him control everything.
I would like to finish this story with a couple more thoughts. First, to my Scouting Family, Be Prepared is not just our motto, but what scouting is all about. No matter what you are doing be prepared for anything and everything. The fact that at Jamboree the highest level of medical care was present and in place is an example of preparedness. Always ask yourself, can I do more to be better prepared for what may lie ahead. This event could have happened at any camp, leaving the medical care to fellow medics until arrival at a hospital.
To my First Responder Family, we talk about doing periodic physicals and annual “Fit for Duty” testing, we complain, balk, scream, etc. not wanting to do it. I know because I see it in my own department, prior to my event. I can say that because of my department’s requirement to pass annual Fit for Duty Testing and periodic physicals, I was in fairly good shape and another reason I survived physically this event.
My recovery started with Cardiac Rehab 3 days a week for 33 sessions, working on exercises that built back strength as well as endurance. Following Rehab I worked with an Exercise Physiologist to keep gaining the strength to be able to pass my Fire Department’s Annual Fit for Duty Testing. I pass the test and returned to full duty six and half months after my incident.
To end this story, keep yourself in good shape, listen to your body. Healthy eating, keeping a good level of hydration, do more to increase physical activity can all help prevent a problem I experienced. For me it was not fun to have to learn to walk and swallow again, to have to sit out on the jobs and tasks that I enjoy.