Terry Church of Gardner (4th from right) and his son Hunter visited Fire Station #121 to thank the emergency responders who treated him on Nov. 6 when he suffered heart stoppage. From left to right above are: Battalion Chief Mike Hirschmann, Lt. Jim Rathman (Med-Act) FF. Brian Hagman, Hunter Church, Terry Church, FF Andrew Dilda, Div. Chief Kirk Keller, FF Grant Wernicke. Staff photo by Rick Poppitz
Special to The Gardner News
The day began normally on Nov. 6 for Gardner native Terry Church, 49. It was a Monday morning, and he went to work like any other Monday morning.
He arrived unaware and unwarned that between 10 and 11 a.m. that morning, his heart would stop for roughly 50 minutes. When talking about heart stoppage, that length of time rarely has a good outcome – but this time it did – due to a combination of fortunate circumstances and the extraordinary effort and determination of first responders, whom Church calls “angels and heroes.”
Terry Church has lived in Gardner his whole life. He grew up here. He and his wife have raised their three kids here. He has worked for the Johnson County Residential Center at New Century for 21 years.
Church remembers getting to work that morning and feeling a little stressed.
He said he thoroughly cleaned up his desk, which was odd, because when he cleans his desk, he doesn’t do it on Mondays.
After cleaning his desk for no apparent reason, he decided he would take the rest of the day off.
He doesn’t remember anything after that.
His conscious memory would not resume until four days later, on Thursday afternoon. That’s when he started piecing together the details of what had happened to him on Monday.
For almost an hour his life had hung by a thread.
He doesn’t remember but just after 10 a.m., he walked out of his workplace, got in his truck and started to drive away. He might have driven 50 to 100 yards before he slumped over, and his truck gently rolled into the ditch.
Moments later, a sheriff’s deputy driving by saw the car off the road. At first she thought the car was abandoned, but she got out to have a closer look and found Church slumped over towards the passenger seat. She immediately called for help.
Being within a few hundred yards of the Sheriff’s New Century facility, a second deputy arrived in seconds, and the two got Church out of the truck and began CPR.
The next person to be in the right place at the right time was Church’s co-worker, Torrey Meade.
Meade usually arrives at work at 6 a.m. – but on this morning he had taken a few hours off to go deer hunting and just happened to be arriving at work in time to see the activity around Church’s truck.
Most public buildings and workplaces today have emergency AED devices available in the building. AED’s (Automatic External Defibrillators), when used within the first 3-5 minutes of a person suffering a Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) can dramatically increase a victim’s chance of survival.
Meade, who has worked with Church at the Residential Center for 20 years, knew where the AED was in the Residential Center and immediately got it to the scene, where the first AED shock treatments were applied.
Meanwhile, a quarter mile away at Fire Station 121, Rob Kirk, FD1 fire chief, had heard the original deputy’s call on the radio and, before knowing the nature of the situation, dispatched FD1 responders to the scene.
From the time the first deputy found Church to the arrival of the FD1 crew was about 4 minutes.
Church had already been shocked by AED at least once before the FD1 responders arrived.
“That’s why we teach AED, because it’s so important to get them on immediately,” says Kirk.
He notes that there are AED’s in many buildings and hopes that people who hear about this will be motivated to learn where they are and how to use them.
“We encourage everyone to call out here, sign up to get AED and CPR training,” he said.
“Thank goodness there was a sheriff’s deputy there, and they shocked him before we got there. Then we got there and hooked up our AED. We ended up shocking him 14 times,” Kirk recalls.
FD1 personnel applied 14 AED shocks, performed constant CPR, used several bottles of oxygen and administered a protocol of drugs.
Still, no heart beat.
The elapsed time passed the 20 or 25 minute mark. The statistical odds of survival lessen dramatically at that point.
Not that long ago, this is the point at which responders may have given up.
Despite knowing this, responders never ceased efforts to revive Church. They could detect a v-fib signal, and as long as they can detect that, they know there is a chance the heart can be restarted.
In most cases with a positive outcome, the heart is restarted on the scene, before being loaded in an ambulance. Once 20 plus minutes have passed, an already critical situation intensifies.
Responders could not get the heart re-started – but they could still detect that v-fib signal – and they would not give up.
Church received continuous emergency treatment from the time of that first AED shock about 3 minutes in to arrival at the hospital emergency room.
To keep that treatment going while getting the patient loaded into the ambulance can be difficult or impossible. Responders used a Lucas CPR Device to overcome that difficulty and maintain the continuous treatment.
LUCAS is an automatic CPR device that wraps around a patient’s back and chest and mechanically delivers consistent compressions in the field or on the move.
“It does compressions in place of a person, and it’s very efficient,” says Kirk Keller, FD1 division chief of training, who was in command of the scene.
“It’s very handy because it ensures that CPR gets done in the back of the ambulance, it keeps CPR consistent throughout transport,” said Keller.
The device was placed on Church, he was loaded into the ambulance and transported to Olathe Medical Center.
“To my understanding, it was when they were transferring me from the ambulance to the emergency room, that is when my heart started beating on its own again,” said Church.
His heart had been stopped for 50 minutes.
Keller estimates less than 10 percent survive if not revived on scene.
To survive beyond 25 minutes beats the statistical odds. To survive 50 minutes is extraordinary. To survive 50 minutes with no serious debilitating damage approaches the miraculous.
Keller credits continuing professional training which has in recent years emphasized that the presence of the v-fib signal can warrant extended AED/CPR efforts. This case seems to prove it does. This is the outcome that Gardner’s emergency responders give their all for in every call, but sadly are often denied. This was a win against the odds.
“That’s why they were really so amped about it, because it was such a long time, and as far as I can tell, I’m going to recover 100 percent,” Church said.
In December, Church has made trips to the Sheriff’s Office and FD1 to meet and thank the people who were there for him that day.
“The deputies were amazing. My co-worker, I thank him over and over and over again, for acting so quickly to get the defibrillator, and then the firefighters and EMS guys, working so hard. They’re just – by the grace of God – they’re angels and heroes both,” Church said.
While discussing the event, he repeatedly praises the professionalism, skill and compassion of the responders.
Church says that doctors have not been able to definitively say exactly what caused his heart to stop that day.
“I ended up with a defibrillator and a pacemaker implanted – but it’s an as needed type deal, and as far as I know, it’s never gone off,” says Church, describing his post hospital condition.
He says he gets tired easily, but he’s been going to the gym and walking every day, and his stamina is slowly improving.
His chest is sore, not from any problem with his heart, but from being pounded with CPR for nearly an hour five weeks ago.
That’s something he can live with.
Church was in the hospital for about 10 days but returned home before Thanksgiving and is expecting to enjoy what’s sure to be a very special Christmas with his family.