Heart attack survivor meets his rescuers
By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY - On their 13th anniversary, Robert and Frannie Taylor thanked the emergency and hospital workers for giving them the chance to celebrate many more.
At Rowan Regional Medical Center on Tuesday, the Salisbury couple reunited with nearly everyone who helped save Robert's life after he had a severe heart attack while driving in September.
"Today is our anniversary," Frannie said. "I think the best present I could have is what you guys gave to me. You gave it a little early - you just didn't know you did."
For more than an hour, the couple spoke with the paramedics who revived Robert, the firefighters who kept his heart beating, the police officers who secured the scene, the emergency room personnel who treated him, the cardiologists who operated on him and the doctors, nurses and technicians who cooled his body down to save him.
As they introduced themselves, emergency workers smiled and said Robert looked a lot better than when they last saw him.
Robert said it was amazing to talk to the people who helped him, including those whose faces he didn't get a chance to see before.
"This just blew me away. I'm glad everybody came," he said.
Robert, who has three children, works at Walmart and says his employer has been "super" about checking in with him and giving him leave time to recover.
He said he hadn't experienced heart problems before, but he had been taking medication for high blood pressure and cholesterol for years. Now the 62-year-old is in a cardiac rehabilitation program to make sure his heart is healthy.
"I'm grateful to be alive, and I appreciate even more all the people around me, my friends and the people who got me back here," he said. "The only problem now is that I have to watch what I eat."
Frannie said she started out planning to make a "thank you" lunch for the Salisbury Fire Department and paramedics, but with the help of EMS Training Officer Bradley Dean, it turned into something much bigger.
"I appreciate all of you guys for bringing him back to this world," she said through tears. "Whatever we can do, we will never be able to repay what you guys have brought to us, because at the end of the day you brought my husband back."
The day of the accident, Robert said he remembers shopping at PetSmart and picking up some mulch from Lowe's. The next thing he knew, he woke up in the hospital two days later on Sept. 11 - "his new birthday," according to Frannie.
While driving back home across Salisbury, Robert had suffered a heart attack. His vehicle rolled across the intersection of East Innes and Arlington streets before coming to rest partially on the sidewalk in front of the Burger King.
No one was injured, and there wasn't even damage to the vehicle, which scraped the side of a pole.
Gary Lang, a former volunteer firefighter with the Franklin Fire Department, happened to be driving by when he saw the accident. After noticing that Robert was unconscious, Lang pulled him out of the car and began CPR.
"To have Gary there and then you guys, and to not hit anything... somebody was watching out for me," Robert told a group of firefighters who had helped him.
Lang couldn't attend Tuesday's event, but nearly everyone else who was involved in any stage of Robert's care was there.
Paramedic Kelly Potts said it's rare that he sees such a personal gesture of appreciation.
"Very few 'thank you's' do we get for the job that we do," he said. "It's nice getting to meet the family, and getting to see him healthy and walking around."
According to Potts, Robert's life was saved with the help of a new "pit crew" CPR technique that the county began using in the spring.
EMS workers and firefighters take two-minute turns doing chest compressions to kick-start the patient's heart. That allows CPR to continue uninterrupted while someone else checks vital signs, clears the airway and prepares electric shock therapy when necessary.
"Statistics show that your effectiveness greatly decreases after two minutes," Potts said. "So they rotate out, and by the time they come back around, they've rested a little bit and they're ready to keep on going."
He also praised the work of the firefighters from Salisbury Fire Department, who attended Tuesday's event but were called out to a car accident shortly after it started.
Once Robert had a steady pulse, paramedics began to induce hypothermia. Cooling the body slows its vital processes and protects the brain during cardiac arrest, said Dr. Neil Patel, who works in critical care.
At the hospital, cardiologists inserted a stent to improve circulation. Robert's body temperature then was kept at 91 degrees with the help of a device called Arctic Sun, Patel said. He was also placed on a ventilator in the hospital's intensive care unit until his vital signs stabilized.
"We didn't know how he was going to do until we started warming him back up," Patel said. "There was this whole time frame where it was scary - 'What's going to happen here?'"
Fortunately, Robert avoided the brain damage that can sometimes result from the loss of blood flow. His doctors said it was wonderful to see him in good health on Tuesday.
"To see people after the fact is just amazing, because it validates the kind of stuff we're doing," Patel said. "A lot of times, you don't get to see that."
Frannie said the staff at Rowan Regional helped put her at ease, answered her questions and let her know what was going on every step of the way.
"People said, 'You've got to go to Charlotte,'" she said. "But we didn't need to go to Charlotte, not immediately. We got to be right here."
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.