NY man thankful to first responders for second chance at life
Richard VanTroost, 66, wanted to personally thank and shake hands with the first responders who saved his life when he suffered a heart attack
By Mike Murphy
Daily Messenger, Canandaigua, N.Y.
CANANDAIGUA, N.Y. — A cardiac arrest incident doesn't always work out like this.
In fact, there is a 90 percent chance that a patient in cardiac arrest outside of a hospital setting will die, according to David Hubble, who is American Heart Association training coordinator with Canandaigua Emergency Squad.
But here was Richard VanTroost, shaking hands and thanking members of the Canandaigua Police Department, Canandaigua Fire Department and Canandaigua Emergency Squad. The night before, he did the same for members of Mercy Flight Central.
After all, they all played a part in saving his life and helped the 66-year-old retiree beat the odds.
"I wanted to meet each and every one of them," said VanTroost, during a get-together at the ambulance base Wednesday night. "I wanted to see who saved my life and thank them in person."
Early in the morning on May 24, VanTroost, who had played golf the night before, began experiencing what he thought was a bad case of heartburn. Soon enough he said he felt as though someone was sitting on his chest.
His wife, Marilyn, asked if he was OK. No answer. Something was terribly wrong.
The original call came to 911 at 4:33 a.m. that day, according to ambulance officials. Dispatchers walked his wife through CPR while one of their daughters, Lori, was on the phone with them.
"There was no time to panic," Marilyn said. "All I remember saying was, 'Richard, don't you leave me now.'"
Within minutes, Canandaigua Police Officers Mat Nielsen and Anthony Catalfamo, who was on his first night on the road with the city, arrived, followed immediately by Sgt. P.J. Mastracy.
They were just a block away, enforcing the city's overnight parking ordinance.
Nielsen said Mastracy took over chest compressions with Catalfamo handling rescue breathing, Nielsen readied the defibrillator, a device used to give an electric shock to the heart .
"Everything happened pretty fast," Nielsen said.
In fact, the officers took over from Marilyn and began CPR at 4:35 a.m., four minutes after the initial call to 911. At 4:38 a.m., members of Canandaigua Emergency Squad arrived and initiated advanced cardiovascular life support. Firefighters arrived at 4:40 a.m. and assisted with VanTroost's care and getting him to the ambulance.
At 5:16 a.m., he was turned over to the Mercy Flight crew, who flew him to Strong Memorial Hospital.
VanTroost has no other recall of any of the events that morning or anything that happened afterward, until six or seven days after he arrived at the hospital.
But his family does.
The training emergency responders go through certainly played a role in her father's survival, said another daughter, Jessica VanTroost.
"I'm sure there was a little bit of luck involved in that the people were in the right places at the right time, but they also had the right training," she said. "That's not luck at all; that's just skill."
Catalfamo said this is what happens when police, fire, emergency medical services all work together.
"It's a testament to what everybody can do when everybody is on the same page," Catalfamo said. "Communication was flawless."
VanTroost, for one, has been singing their praises to everyone he sees.
"I learned a lot from this," VanTroost said, including the importance of funding for their training and the need for everyone to learn how to perform CPR. "I want to talk them up and let people know what they're doing and why."
The combination of the CPR provided by the family and the work done by emergency responders no doubt saved his life, Hubble said. Remember, most people die in a circumstance like VanTroost experienced, but the odds of survival double and almost triple when CPR is begun immediately, according to the American Heart Association.
"CPR is one of the most important things people can learn," Hubble said.
The payoff is a second chance at life.
To see VanTroost up and about is a thrill, Mastracy said.
"To be honest, it's just really awesome to be able to see him, shake his hand and know that what you did actually helped somebody in their life," Mastracy said. "A lot of us get into this job because you want to help people. This is one of those instances where we actually got to do what we signed up for — just a tremendous blessing."
"Knowing that we were able to take this family that was shattered at the moment and give them more memories together over the next hopefully 20 years, that's pretty important to all of us," Nielsen said.
Lori VanTroost said her mind is still blown, not only over what happened and how they responded and helped, but that these people respond to such traumatic events regularly.
"To them, it's a job," she said. "To us, they saved his life."
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