Gene Pettis says his formal name is “Eugene,” but adds, “You can call me ‘Lucky!’”
Lucky, indeed. This past Groundhog Day (Feb. 2), Pettis, of Pensacola, Fla., began feeling out of sorts while working out at the Pagosa Lakes Recreation Center.
“I noticed I was a little more tired than usual,” Pettis said, “and then I collapsed.”
Fortunately for Pettis, where potential tragedy struck, his luck began.
Working out at the recreation center were Lara Greenamyer and Lars Schneider, Pagosa residents who also happened to be training to be EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians). Greenamyer saw Pettis collapse and immediately ran to help him while Schneider dialed 911.
“I realized this was not good,” Greenamyer said.
“It was a good thing Lars was there. He remembered to ask questions (as to Pettis’ symptoms) that I forgot to ask.”
Within minutes, Paramedic Kerry Ferguson and EMT Joe Bigley were on the scene, taking the patient’s vitals. With Pettis’ blood pressure below 80 and no pulse, the responders realized they had encountered a life or death situation.
“We call it ‘little sick’ and ‘big sick’ and this was definitely ‘big sick’,” Ferguson said. “Kudos to these two (Greenamyer and Schneider) for making the call.”
“We took an EKG and it had high indications of a heart attack,” Ferguson added.
Bigley and Ferguson got Pettis immediately into the ambulance, aware that time was of the essence.
“Most of the time you only save five to ten percent of patients with cardiac arrest,” Bigley said. “You generally have only eight minutes before brain damage occurs.”
“We’ve been lucky,” he added, “Gene was our second successful save this year at the rec center.”
With John Gilbert from the Pagosa Springs Medical Center and Upper San Juan Health Services District dispatch calling ahead to Durango’s Mercy Medical Center, the EMS ambulance was on its way for a long and treacherous route on icy, snow-packed roads. As Gilbert drove, Ferguson rode in the back administering basic emergency services to stabilize Pettis as the wagon left Pagosa. Traveling as fast as they could on hazardous roads, it was apparent they would need another pair of hands when Pettis’ heart stopped just east of Bayfield.
“We asked Upper Pine Fire District for mutual aid,” Bigley said.
“Upper Pine Fire’s response was outstanding.”
In Bayfield, Upper Pine Fire District Paramedic Brian Leewitt joined the crew. With Leewitt on board, Pettis was defibrillated twice to get his heart started again as the four continued the trek to Mercy. Just as the quartet pulled into Mercy, Pettis’ heart stopped again.
“He was defibbed twice in the ER,” Bigley said.
“And another four times in the Cath Lab,” Ferguson added, referring to the Cardiac Catheterization Lab, an area of the hospital where extensive tests are done.
“I recall some of it,” Gene said of the catheterization. “They were extraordinary physicians and Dr. Brown was a very good sport,” he said, laughing as he added, “I said some very colorful things.”
Looking back on his experience, Gene is nonetheless grateful that, whatever discomfort he experienced, it was a process that, essentially, brought him back from the dead — twice.
“These guys probably don’t think twice about what they did, what they accomplished,” Gene said. “They rather take it for granted. Sandra (Gene’s wife of 41 years) and I happen to think it’s heroic.”
“These were perfect strangers,” Sandra added, “and what an appropriate term — ‘perfect.’”
“Where they feel it was an ordinary thing, we feel it was an extraordinary thing,” Gene said.
In the following weeks of recovery, Gene and Sandra said they felt the support of their family and Pagosa Springs as a whole.
“The entire community has made it easy for us,” Sandra said. “Everybody’s been so nice.”