Back From The Dead

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Monday, February 7, 2011 - 8:57am

Chilling procedure saves Florida heart attack victim.

Florida's West Palm Beach Fire Department is one of a few in South Florida that trains its firefighters to purposely give hypothermia to a patient whose heart has stopped beating.

In two years the department has tried it more than a dozen times.

Their biggest success story happened when a man named Charles Morgan had a heart attack on December 8th.

A smoker for 30 years, Morgan thought he was stepping outside of Schumacher Volkswagen for an ordinary cigarette break.

"I fell face first in the grass," he said.

The 52 year-old car salesman, husband and father doesn't remember anything from that day.

"My wife, the first thing she said to me when I woke up in the hospital was -- and I don't remember this either -- 'Do you know how lucky you are?' and my first question was, 'why?' "said Morgan.

Rich Harward, a former Marine and a co-worker of Morgan's, is one reason why he's lucky.

He started doing chest compressions.

"He was very constricted in his face. He was gurgling," said Harward. "He just took his last breath. He wasn't breathing anymore."

The 911 call was answered by seven firefighters from West Palm's Station Five, lead by Capt. Danny Collazo.

"The more stressful it is, the more calm we are trained to be, so we can think clearly," said Collazo. At the time of our arrival, he must have been without a pulse and not breathing for over eight to ten minutes."

Firefighters say Morgan was dead, and probably would have stayed that way without modern technology.

Firefighters used a chest compression machine, which squeezes a person's sides, along with their chest, making it 80 percent more successful at getting a pulse than ordinary chest compressions.

It worked.

After ten minutes, Morgan's heart was beating again.

Then they unleashed their secret weapon.

They injected salt water, cooled to 32 degrees, into his body with a needle.

"We also place ice packs in designated areas, underneath the armpits, behind the neck, to also put him in a hypothermic state," said Collazo.

The ice in Morgan's veins allowed his brain to slow down and go without oxygen for double the amount of time it would normally take a person to develop brain damage.

He had a stent put in and was back at work in three weeks.

He's come back from the dead a changed man.

"I haven't smoked a cigarette since December 8th. And I go to exercise three times a week now," said Morgan. "These people saved my life and I got a second chance."

Firefighters, who are so often devastated by what happens on the calls they go on, will fly high for at least a little while about this success story.

"We all have families, uncles, friends and co workers, and for us to know that this person was dead, and is now alive and walking, and has a second chance at life, is incredibly rewarding," said Collazo.

Without inducing hypothermia, they say it's possible Morgan would have survived, but had severe brain damage.
 

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