Off-duty firefighter CPR helped save Conn. man's life

A bystander, a nurse, and an off-duty New York City firefighter performed CPR on Ryan DeJonghe when he went into cardiac arrest

By Brian McCready
New Haven Register

WEST HAVEN, Conn. — Ryan DeJonghe says he would not be alive today if his parents weren't visiting from Ohio.

DeJonghe, 35, said if they weren't visiting, he would not have gone out to eat at Red Robin restaurant at the Westfield Connecticut Post mall in Milford on Feb. 19, a day that changed his life.

It was at Red Robin where DeJonghe went into cardiac arrest, and because of the quick action of several people, the father of two is alive.

"Usually, I would either be home alone with the kids or with my wife and kids. If that was the case, I wouldn't be (here) today," DeJonghe said.

DeJonghe, who came home from the hospital Tuesday, recalled feeling well, and then being shocked back to life in the emergency room at Milford Hospital.

He said he remembers nothing from the mall. He knows he was eating with his children, Abigail, 5; and Jacob, 3; wife, Sarah; and his parents, when he went into cardiac arrest.

A number of people played a role in his survival. Red Robin Manager Curtis Kilburn called 911 and summoned mall security. Bystanders Jeanne DeMello, a nurse, and Mark Kipstein, an off-duty New York City firefighter, performed CPR on DeJonghe.

Mall security personnel Brian Carson and Michael Todd arrived and had DeJonghe hooked up to an automatic external defibrillator within minutes of the collapse. His heart was shocked back into rhythm. Milford paramedics arrived within four minutes, did advanced life support and took him to the hospital. DeJonghe's heart was shocked 72 times, and he recalls 25 of them. He was put into a medically induced coma.

"I remember being awake for several of the shocks there, which is a sensation that is indescribable," DeJonghe said. "My family was coming in and out of the ER as my heart was coming in and out of a normal rhythm. From what my family remembers, it took about 3 1/2 hours to get me stable."

DeJonghe said family members told him he began to shake at Red Robin, and he slumped over onto his son.

His wife screamed for someone to call 911. Kipstein, who was sitting behind him, first came to his aid, performing chest compressions, DeJonghe said.

"Between him, the nurse, the manager, the security, I am here today," DeJonghe said. He said once he recovers he plans to personally thank everyone that saved his life.

"It seems like a simple 'thank you' is reserved for the person who brings me lunch or opens the door for me. I have some big hugs, at the least, for these heroes," DeJonghe said. "Without them, I would still be dead."

Doctors have told him he has ventricular fibrillation, which is where heart rhythm goes into a chaotic pattern, making it impossible to pump blood or for him to breathe. But he said doctors said there were no blockages, and his heart is healthy. DeJonghe has been given heart medication to keep his heart in rhythm, and a defibrillator has been implanted.

Sarah DeJonghe said she had no idea who saved her husband's life because she quickly pulled her two young children to the side to shield them, and didn't see a lot of what happened up close.

"It was easily the scariest day of my life," Sarah DeJonghe said.

She said she knows her husband is a survivor, but like him she is worried his heart could fail again.

"I think the emotional recovery will be a lot harder than the physical recovery at this point. He has to come to terms with the fact that he was clinically dead, and would have died, had not everything happened just as it did. He also has the trauma of the ER to deal with," Sarah DeJonghe said.

Fire Capt. Chris Zak said the American Red Cross has contacted him hoping to honor all of those who came to DeJonghe's aid. Zak said he hopes to arrange a time where all of the "heroes" can meet DeJonghe. Ryan DeJonghe, who is a secretary for the state Department of Veteran Affairs, said he has many weeks of recovery ahead. He will not be running anytime soon, but hopes to be walking. In November DeJonghe participated in a Veterans Day 5K run, and felt strong then.

"My ribs are very sore," DeJonghe said. "I'm glad to be alive to feel that pain."

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