Survivors thank heroes for second chances

Paramedics save three men from heart attacks in four weeks

Littleton Fire Rescue paramedics got to meet three patients they brought back from cardiac arrest duirng a press conference July 9. Photo by Jennifer Smith
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Three men who briefly visited death spent some time thanking the people who brought them back.

“It was one of the few times in my life I was totally dependent on other people to make a difference, and I'm very grateful that they did,” said Michael Howell.

Howell, Victor Anderson and William Brewton all had heart attacks within about a month of each other earlier this year. All are now healthy enough to have made the trip to the Littleton Center on July 9 to visit with the Littleton Fire Rescue paramedics who saved them.

“A lot of times, news stories, for us, don't come out well,” EMS Capt. Mike Simon. “The only thing that makes it more incredible than that it actually happened is that it happened within the space of a month.”

Simon said that, as a general rule, only about 9.5 percent of people who aren't in a hospital when they go into cardiac arrest survive. LFR's success rate is 16 percent.

“Usually when the heart stops, it stays stopped,” said Simon. “We can get them back a lot of the time, but because their brain has taken such a hit on oxygen, they don't survive to walk home and live the rest of their lives. … The people that are (here today) had a lot of fight in them, and said, `I'm not done.' ”

Capt. Wayne Smith can relate. He had a heart attack in another department's jurisdiction, and says he can vouch for the fact that LFR is exceptional. He had to read his own EKG, he says, because the paramedics who responded didn't know how.

“This is a really great privilege for us to see you again and to be recognized in this way,” said Capt. Wayne Smith. “We all take great pride in the department that we work for.”

Although the three men all feel very blessed to be alive, they had very different experiences.

Anderson, 66, was working around the house Feb. 16 when he suddenly just didn't feel well. His wife, Carol, said it was just intuition that made them call 911.

“A lot of times you don't feel good, and you just don't feel good, and you let it go,” she said.

Fortunately, not that time. LFR was there in minutes, but just in the nick of time.

“He decided to make us work a little harder,” said Simon. “He decided to have a seizure, and he decided to die. … The coolest thing was when he pulled our hands off his chest and asked us what we were doing.”

Brewton, 58, never thought he'd have a heart attack. A lifeguard at Buck Recreation Center, he's active and fit. He had actually just finished working out there on Feb.4 when his hand started feeling “funny,” then his arm.

“The hardest part was admitting to myself that I had the symptoms of a heart attack,” he said.

He said it's been hard knowing he won't ever be quite as active as he was before the incident.

“But I have to temper that with the fact that I can still talk to my grandchildren,” he said.

Howell, 59, slept through the whole thing on March 6 and woke up in the hospital, confused but alive. His symptoms woke up his wife, who called 911 and started CPR.

“I was spared some of the firsthand experience, but it didn't spare my wife. That's the hard part,” he said. “I've truly been given a second chance. It takes a lot of people to pull us through.”

Including loved ones, who are grateful to have the chance, said Carol Anderson.

“Every time we hear a siren now, we pray,” she said. “We pray for the person they're going to save, and we pray for them. We pray, `Please keep our friends safe.' ”