Last Sept. 3, after a night of visiting friends, Mike Miller and his girlfriend of 11 years returned to the home they had moved into four days earlier.
Just after 11 p.m., the two sat down on their couch, and that’s when Miller began acting …
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Just after 11 p.m., the two sat down on their couch, and that’s when Miller began acting strange.
First he told his girlfriend, Lyndsey Albright, that he felt tired. Then he took off his glasses and began crushing them in his hand.
Believing he was having a seizure, Albright called 911. At that point he was no longer breathing and she was instructed to begin CPR.
Albright didn’t know at the time, but Miller, then 42, was experiencing sudden cardiac arrest.
And despite the efforts of Albright and emergency responders, Miller died. For 10 minutes, he had no pulse.
About a week later, he was standing in line at Walgreens waiting for a prescription and contemplating that very fact.
Meeting for the first time
Two Douglas County 911 dispatchers, along with Albright, Miller and Norris Croom, deputy chief at Castle Rock Fire and Rescue, gathered May 11 in a room at the Douglas County’s Sheriff’s Office to reflect on the teamwork they say saved Miller’s life that night.
Katie Bowers, the dispatcher who walked Albright through CPR, and Jerod Baertsch, the dispatcher who relayed the call to emergency responders, were honored in April by the Castle Rock Fire Department for their work handling Albright’s call.
The fire department’s crew that went to the scene also was honored, but for Bowers and Baertsch, the award was a unique gift. Meeting a 911 caller or victim almost never happens, they said.
“From our aspect, 99 percent of the time we don’t know what happens afterwards,” Baertsch said of taking 911 calls. “The fact that Castle Rock Fire was willing to recognize us, as well as introduce us to these two, is way more important than the actual award.”
Neither Bowers nor Baertsch knew their efforts had helped save Miller’s life until nearly two months ago, when they learned they were being honored.
“For us, that’s always the biggest thing,” Baertsch said, “finding out what happens and then being able to meet the people we were impacting.”
‘You’re doing a great job’
Sudden cardiac arrest is not the same as a heart attack. It is a condition in which the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating, preventing blood from flowing to the brain and vital organs.
According to the National Institutes of Health, most people who experience sudden cardiac arrest die, and within minutes. Although those with heart disease are at a higher risk for sudden cardiac arrest, it can happen to people who appear healthy and have no known heart disease.
Miller and Albright said he’d never experienced anything like it before.
Immediate action is needed to save a victim of sudden cardiac arrest. For Albright, who hadn’t had CPR training in more than a decade, having Bowers walk her through CPR over the phone was crucial.
“It makes all the difference in the world,” Croom said of quick CPR. “The longer you’re going without moving blood, the chances of you survivng exponentially decrease there. So the fact that she was there, immediately started CPR, had the instructions from dispatch, all those pieces came to play.”
Bowers and Baertsch give credit to Albright.
“If the caller is hysterical and not giving us answers, we’re not going to be able to get them to the appropriate care and the appropriate response,” Baertsch said.
“I went back and listened to it last week,” Bowers said of the 911 call with Albright. “It’s amazing. She did such a great job.”
On the 911 call, Albright can be heard telling the dispatcher — Bowers — that her boyfriend was convulsing and gasping.
“You’ve got to hurry,” Albright said before Bowers walked her through CPR, telling her how to position Miller, where to place her hands and how quickly to pump his chest.
“Stay on the line and I’ll tell you exactly what to do next,” Bowers assured Albright.
“One, two, three, four,” Albright chanted over and over as she administered CPR to the rhythm Bower paced for her.
Her voice trembled slightly, and though clearly afraid, Albright did not lose control, instead answering each of Bowers’ questions while relentlessly continuing with CPR.
“Good job, keep going,” Bowers told her. “You’re doing a great job.”
When paramedics reached the house, Bowers ended the call, not knowing what had happened to Miller.
Miller can barely recall the night of his cardiac arrest, or of the days that followed.
“It doesn’t exist,” he said. “Literally, I have no memory.”
Albright is there to fill in the holes. She reminds him that approximately four hours after he was taken to the hospital, he was awake and talking with paramedics who had come to check on him.
He was home less than a week later.
“Some patients recover rapidly,” Croom said of sudden cardiac arrest. “It depends on their down time. If a patient’s been down for a greater length of time, maybe they have not had a pulse or they haven’t been breathing for a greater length of time, then it can be a longer span of time before they come back.”
In Miller’s case, Croom said, 10 minutes without a pulse is longer than they’d like to see.
“Typically, at eight minutes you start seeing brain death. At the eight-minute mark is when the brain has not received oxygen. However, that’s where the CPR piece comes back in,” Croom said, which would have helped circulate oxygen back to the brain. “So, again, when you start looking at the 10-minute mark, that’s pretty significant.”
Tests couldn’t conclude what led to the cardiac arrest but Miller now has a pacemaker and internal defibrillator in case it were to happen again.
Miller and Albright were avid mountain bikers before the incident and still are, although Miller takes fewer trips.
While he’s not fully back to the physical shape he once was, Miller said, he has his wits about him. Because of his lapse in memory Miller mostly chimed in with quick jokes throughout the group’s May 11 conversation, eliciting laughs and warm smiles from all.
He’s positive, but in regard to his brush with death, he’s not sure how to feel.
“Have I come to terms with it?” Miller said of knowing that for 10 minutes he was gone. “I don’t know.”
What he does know is how grateful he is to be alive. And to have met his rescuers, whose humility he says is “awe-inspiring.”
As the group began to say goodbye, they exchanged hugs. Miller had two more simple, sincere, parting words:
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