Driver who suffered heart attack reunites with first responders who saved her
Deputy Chief Bucky Buchanan said he appreciated witnessing the "chain of survival ... come to life”
NJ Advance Media Group, Edison, N.J.
Nine days after suffering a massive heart attack while driving, a 39-year-old woman reunited with the first responders who saved her life, including a man who is CPR- and AED-certified, who happened to be driving behind her as she crashed.
Accompanied by her two daughters, Washington Borough resident Jennifer Andrews appeared at the headquarters of the Clinton First Aid & Rescue Squad on Saturday morning to thank those who played a role in saving her life.
“I just wanted to be able to meet everyone and say ‘thank you’ in person," said Andrews, who checked out of the Hunterdon Medical Center on Thursday.
Describing Saturday’s reunion, Deputy Chief of the Clinton First Aid & Rescue Squad Bucky Buchanan said he appreciated witnessing the "chain of survival ... come to life.”
“I’ve been doing this for 34 years, and it’s only the third or fourth time that I can say I’ve truly had such an experience where someone has survived such an event and been able to walk away and thank their rescuers," Buchanan said.
Those who helped that day included squad members, Clinton police officers, Hunterdon Medical Center paramedics, Annandale Hose Company and Clinton Fire Department volunteers, High Bridge Police Chief Brett Bartman and two Hunterdon County residents.
Andrews, 39, was driving north on Route 31 in Clinton on the afternoon of Jan. 9 when she received what she described as a “massive heart attack” that left her unconscious. Her car spun off the road into an area directly south of Moebus Place, where she traveled down a 20-foot drop until stopping in a heavily-wooded area not visible from the roadway.
Following behind was Hampton Borough resident Miguel Alves, a CPR- and AED-certified flight officer, who stopped. “When I saw the car going down the embankment and into the woods, I didn’t see any taillights," Alves said. “I thought immediately that she fell asleep, she had a heart attack, or a seizure.
"So I stopped the car and went down there to look for her.”
Alves said that he spotted the vehicle amongst a shroud of trees within a wooded area resembling “a mangled grove."
“The car was still running. Smoke was coming out all over the place ... and the wheels were (spinning) in reverse,” Alves said.
Heavy brush and trees blocked his access to the front doors of her car, so Alves climbed into the backseat and, through the smoke, spotted Andrews leaning forward in the driver’s seat, unconscious.
"She was hardly breathing, (just) very deep breathing ... and at this time I said to her, ‘Are you OK?’ Even though I knew she was not OK,” Alves said.
After calling 9-1-1, Alves, said he heard what sounded like Andrews’ “last gasp.”
“I put my ear next to her nose and mouth; there’s no breathing. So I check her pulse, and there’s no pulse,” Alves said. "So at that point I tell 9-1-1, ‘There’s no breathing, there’s no pulse, I cannot be on the phone, I’m going to initiate CPR on this woman.'”
Alves said that he performed CPR on Andrews two separate times, briefly resuscitating her both times.
Upon the arrival of the Clinton First Aid & Rescue Squad, Alves said that he informed them that he was both CPR- and AED-certified, and insisted on them allowing him to use a defibrillator on Andrews.
“(Squad member Matt Morris) said, ‘Do you need help?’ And I said, ‘I’m going to need a defibrillator just in case she goes out again,’” Alves said. “I said, ‘Yeah, I am (CPR- and AED-certified). But it’s not time for a piece of paper, right now; just bring the AED because she went out on me twice, and if she did that, because of the position she’s in, she’ll probably go out again. Needless to say, when I stopped saying this, she goes out again."
Alves resuscitated Andrews for a third time using the defibrillator.
“One of our EMTs was in the car, along with the bystander Miguel, who was in the backseat," Buchanan confirmed. "They reported that they had had one shock advised, delivered, and were actively doing CPR when she had returned to spontaneous circulation.”
Onsite firefighters and squad members, Buchanan, and Alves then successfully extricated Andrews from her vehicle. A pathway in the wooded area had been cleared by former squad member John Frischette, who was driving by the scene in his Superior Towing & Transport service truck and stopped to assist those on site by cutting through the brush with a chainsaw.
“(We) removed her from the car and got her off in an ambulance so that she could continue to receive treatment. And seven days later, she walked out of the hospital,” Buchanan said.
From the ambulance, Andrews was taken directly to the operating room of the Hunterdon Medical Center in Flemington, where she underwent immediate life-saving emergency surgery.
Buchanan said that Andrews survived “only because of the entire chain working,” and particularly pinpointed the vital actions taken by Alves.
“When we have a critical situation like that, and we have limited manpower until more manpower gets there, those first-responding community members are key to survival,” Buchanan said. “And from early access, to early CPR, from quick defibrillation from the First Responders, to get her to the hospital -- that’s what made the difference."
Echoing Buchanan, Alves described rescuing Andrews as “a team effort.”
“I gave her life, the ambulance squad let her live, and the doctors at the hospital gave her permission to continue living,” Alves said.
While stating that the incident has brought “a complete lifestyle change,” Andrews said she remains “in disbelief” it occurred.
“I didn’t really have any emotions," Andrews said. “I feel like I’m still pretty young, so it was a pretty big shock.”
Alves described seeing Andrews and her daughters on Saturday as a “total game-changer.”
“It does make me feel good that I brought somebody back. Especially a mother. At the same time I was doing that CPR, that’s what I was looking at ... that this lady has got to be somebody’s mom," Alves said.
"And I didn’t want her to leave me, I wanted her to be with me,” Alves added.
Buchanan expressed his gratitude for playing a part in piecing together “a ‘good news’ story.”
“Unfortunately, so often ... it’s not a 'good news' story. But this is, and again it’s because of the entire community coming together. It doesn’t matter whether you’re paid or you’re volunteer, doesn’t matter whether you have red lights on your vehicle or not. Everyone did their part that day for a good outcome," Buchanan said.
Reflecting on the day, Andrews said that there was a second component of Saturday’s reunion of which she was especially appreciative.
“It was nice to be able to hear the story. Because I wasn’t sure what the story was,” Andrews said.
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