It all started out as a normal day at the office on June 30 for Heather Carrel, a telecommunicator with the Lincoln County Communications Center and a regular day in the truck (ambulance) for paramedics, Carol Mecimore, Jonathan Thomas and Kristy Lee. Everything was going as usual for Jerry Skidmore and his wife, Rebecca Frye until around 2 p.m. when things got really bad.
Skidmore, who had no previous history of heart problems, clutched his chest, fell face first on the floor and turned purple. Frye immediately called 911 and got Carrel on the phone who talked her through CPR. Skidmore doesn’t remember a thing about what happened.
“I had taken CPR years ago, but the 911 dispatcher (Carrel), I don’t remember her name, was wonderful helping me count,” Frye said. “Somehow I was able to turn him over. I guess it was pure adrenaline at that point.”
Thomas and Lee were just clearing a call at the hospital in Lincolnton when they got the high priority cardiac arrest call came in. Mecimore got the call and came separately.
“From the notes, we read that the family was doing CPR, so we got there within a couple of minutes,” Thomas said. “Fire had arrived on the scene just before us and had started taking care of him. As soon as we got there, we took over care from them.”
The paramedics soon realized this was going to be a complex call because he was in an unstable rhythm.
“We went through every rhythm you could think of, what we would call a mega code in school,” Thomas said. “We finally had him in a stable rhythm where we could move him and got him out of the house. It sort of worked out like a movie scene. You see the movies where you do CPR then they shock them, you sit back up and they’re alive. That’s kind of what happened here. He was talking to us on the way to the hospital.”
Skidmore was transported to the Gastonia hospital because Lincolnton doesn’t have a catheterization laboratory.
“We get a lot of cardiac arrest calls, but this was a unique one in the way he was presenting,” Lee said. “He was able to talk to us. Most of the time we have to intubate a patient when they’re in cardiac arrest. We didn’t have to intubate him; he was able to breath on his own the entire time.”
Part of the reason why, Thomas explained, was because his family was right there when his heart stopped and did CPR. Lincoln County EMS uses a LUCAS board which does very effective CPR, so Skidmore’s brain was getting oxygen and blood flow. The paramedics did provide oxygen with a bag.
“When we stopped, he’d become unresponsive and when we started again, he’d come back and looked at us as if to say, ‘what are you doing to me’” he said.
As the paramedics transported Skidmore to the ambulance, Frye called out, “I love you Jerry,” he replied, “I’m not gone yet.”
Skidmore coded a total of six times that day. Even after they put a stent in at the hospital, he coded again. It’s very rare that he survived, Mecimore said.
Frye was so thankful for all Lincoln County EMS did for the family, she cooked them a gourmet lunch and brought it to them on Wednesday.
“Sometimes I wish I remembered some,” Skidmore said. “I’m happy to be here. I’ve never heard of anyone passing so many times and then going home five days later. People ask me what the big change in my life is. I didn’t even realize it happened, but there’s definitely some changes that have to take place after that. A lot of medication and exercise.”
The couple weren’t married at the time of Skidmore’s heart attack. They’d been living together for an extended period of time, had talked about getting married, but just didn’t get around to it. They’re now married.
“We thought, no time like the present,” he said. “It gave me a lot of relief – getting married when I should have been married before. I guess everyone just assumes you’ve got the rest of your life. Sometimes you don’t.”
Skidmore still gets very tired and doesn’t have a lot of energy, but he’s happy to be able to get up and have a cup of coffee.
“We do our daily jobs but saving someone’s life so that they go on to lead a functional life doesn’t happen all that often in our career,” Mecimore said. “It’s just in Hollywood that paramedics bring people back from the dead. It doesn’t happen often in real life. We do a lot in our careers, but these kinds of things make us remember why we do it.”
This is not saying that we don’t help someone every day, because we do, Thomas added.
Lincoln County and City of Lincolnton first responders, from the 911 communication center, the fire departments, and emergency medical service personnel worked together on that day like a well-oiled machine and gave Skidmore back his life.