After 24 years as a paramedic, Joe Stellwagon doesn’t take a successful resuscitation of a cardiac arrest patient for granted.
Stellwagon, a paramedic with Johnson County MED-ACT in Overland Park, Kansas, said: "When things go properly, and you see the eyes blinking, it's simply a terrific feeling."
When Karl Floth's heart stopped, Stellwagon was one of the first responders from the neighborhood that was contacted.
Karl suddenly felt dizzy while traveling with his wife, Susan, to fetch ice cream.
Susan, who was in the passenger seat, recalled what happened next. "Then he just fell over and started turning red and then purple." When she managed to stop the car and attempted to call 911 but was unsuccessful in doing so, she hopped out and waved for assistance.
A nursing school graduate leaped out of a car and started chest compressions while monitoring vital signs. Soon after, a police officer with an automatic external defibrillator, or AED, showed up. A short while later, an EMS crew also showed up.
Karl's heart was jolted by the AED to return to its usual beat. At the hospital, physicians found a clogged artery, which they used a stent to open the following day.
According to Stellwagon, Karl's case is an excellent illustration of how bystander CPR and defibrillation, which are both parts of the chain of survival, can save lives.
Stellwagon stated, "It doesn't come together like that very frequently. "It's difficult when you get a call and CPR hasn't been started. Reanimation has started, but you are aware that the prognosis is poor or that there may be brain damage.
Karl remarked, "The doctor said I was lucky to have survived.
Karl, 63, was inspired by the event to make considerable lifestyle adjustments. A heavy smoker for three decades, Karl immediately quit. He changed his eating habits, staying away from salt, red meat, and fatty meals, and he started working out.
He admitted that he felt ashamed of how he had come to that situation. "I woke up every hour as I lay in that hospital thinking that I owed it to my wife and everyone else involved to do anything I could to be well."
To lessen the stress that comes with the significant amount of travel necessary for his regional sales job, he also cut back on his workday.
Karl found a cardiologist after years of delaying medical care, and a few months after his cardiac arrest, he underwent quadruple bypass surgery. Doctors also learned that he had escaped an unrecognized mild stroke a few years prior.
Since then, he has had three more stents inserted in his groin and legs.
Karl claimed that the incident has given him a completely different perspective on what it means to hear sirens or see an ambulance approaching.
Karl stated, "I get really angry when people don't pull over right away. Everyone must move aside for the wonders that the EMS staff perform.
The Floths had a chance to meet Karl’s rescuers at the Johnson County HeartSafe Heroes Celebration last August, an experience Karl described as “unbelievably high and very emotional.”
Stellwagon's response team included Overland Park Fire Department paramedic Crystal Henley, who described meeting the Floths as a humbling experience.
People frequently express their gratitude, but for Henley, it is a calling. "I don't feel like I'm performing an act of bravery. I'm just a regular person with a job that enables me to genuinely assist people."
Karl's case, according to Henley, is especially tragic because she has only seen a small number of cardiac arrest patients recover enough to resume their regular lives since she started working as a paramedic in 2013.
"Seeing him up and talking, that meant a lot to me," she added, adding that without the bystander who started CPR right away, the paramedics' work might not have been possible.
"The chances of bringing someone back are a lot better if a bystander can start CPR soon," Henley added.
"Oftentimes, when we arrive on the scene, no one is performing CPR because they are afraid or unsure of how. Although it could be frightening, the sooner you can start performing effective CPR, the better chance the patient will have of surviving."