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May 17, 2011

HS grad credits Fla. paramedic for saving her life


BOCA RATON, Fla. — Claire Dunlap, 17, had a blue-ribbon day Saturday as she graduated from high school and her softball team won the state championship.

It's a miracle that Dunlap was there for either one.

"It's definitely a scary feeling, but I feel grateful every day that I escaped death," she said.

Two years ago after a game, Dunlap, who had never been sickly, suddenly collapsed.

"I collapsed backward and was not breathing and was turning blue, basically," she said.

Dunlap's mother, Patti, was on the phone with her husband and in a moment of surreal panic found herself telling him their daughter was dead.

"(They) started CPR, but it wasn't working, and they move you off the scene because you're a hysterical parent and you're not helping the situation," Dunlap's mother said.

Her daughter was in cardiac arrest, but no one realized it at first.

There were two things at the ballpark that saved then-15-year-old Dunlap's life that day. One was an automatic external defibrillator, and the other was a paramedic firefighter in the stands.

"He was watching his son play when his younger son told him, 'Dad, there's something wrong at the softball field. You should probably go check it out,'" Dunlap said. "So he went over there, and thank God he did, because I don't think I'd be here today."

Palm Beach County paramedic Rick Grau said he knew that as unbelievable as it seemed, that Dunlap was actually having a heart attack.

"He knew that I was in cardiac arrest," Dunlap said. "So he told the trainer to get the AED, and they did, and they shocked me three times, and finally I had a pulse."

Dunlap was in a coma for three days. She had a defibrillator implanted and was ultimately able to play softball again, graduate and to remain lifelong friends with the firefighter who saved her life.

"He's always going to have a special place with me," Dunlap said.

Reprinted with permission from WPBF.