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October 10, 2010

30 cardiac arrest survivors thank lifesaving responders in Pa.

By Chris Togneri
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review

PITTSBURGH — Ryan Collins lost a week of his life, and he'll never complain about it.

One day he was an 18-year-old freshman at Robert Morris University attending his second rehearsal for the school production of "Godspell." It was January 2009, and he felt fine.

A week later, he opened his eyes in Allegheny General Hospital. His parents were there, as were the doctors. They explained that Collins had suffered cardiac arrest.

"My heart stopped for 10 or 12 minutes," Collins said Friday night at the Marriott Pittsburgh City Center, Downtown, where about 30 sudden cardiac arrest survivors gathered to meet the dozens of first responders who saved their lives.

"I can't come up with the words to thank them," Collins said. "They saved my life. ... It's made me value life more."

On the first day of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Association's annual three-day meeting, Collins met with one of the paramedics who helped save his life that night. Scott Lowman, who recently saved another man's life while on vacation in upstate New York by performing the Heimlich maneuver when the man started choking in a restaurant, said it is "very rare" to see someone as young as Collins suffer cardiac arrest.

"Someone so young, you don't want to lose them," Lowman said. "Older patients are no less important. But with them, it's more common."

The meeting is a chance for first responders to witness firsthand the good they accomplish on a regular basis.

It could not come at a better time for embattled local emergency services officials.

A week ago, the family of a Hazelwood man who died while waiting 30 hours for an ambulance during February's blizzard said they will sue the city, its EMS leaders, five paramedics and Allegheny County Emergency Services.

Curtis Mitchell, 50, died Feb. 7 from heart disease and a fatty liver, according to the Medical Examiner's Office. Mitchell and his partner, Sharon Edge, placed 10 calls to 911 about his stomach pain during a 22-inch snowstorm. While the couple waited, paramedics talked about Mitchell with each other, saying that he could wait, that he should just go to sleep and that EMS "ain't no cab service."

Mitchell could have been saved with treatment, his family's attorneys said. The medical examiner would not make that determination.

James Holman, a district chief for the city's Emergency Medical Services, said meetings like last night's help boost morale.

"To know somebody was clinically dead and now they're up and talking to you, sharing a meal with you -- that's when we get real satisfaction," he said. "That's our artwork."

University of Pittsburgh sociology professor Mike Epitropoulos is one such case.

He was running on a treadmill in April when he dropped his iPod, reached down to grab it and lost consciousness. He awoke days later in a hospital bed, unaware of what had happened.

Doctors explained that his heart had stopped, but that a nurse and an anesthesiologist, both off-duty, were working out in the gym. They performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation at once. A Pitt police officer joined in moments later, and today Epitropoulos, 43, is running and biking more than ever.

"What do you say to someone who saved your life?" Epitropoulos asked. "It's kind of different. I mean, what do you say?"

Copyright 2010 Tribune Review Publishing Company

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