Most of us live one life. Some get to live two.
More often than not, emergency medics can’t save the lives of people whose hearts have stopped working. That weighs heavily on emergency responders and can even cause post-traumatic stress disorder, said Andrew Nothmann, a Queen of the Valley emergency department physician, and emcee of Napa County’s eighth annual Survivors’ Reunion.
But sometimes — and often with the help of early and continuous CPR — lives are saved.
More than a hundred guests gathered Tuesday night at the Black Stallion winery in honor of Napa Valley’s emergency responders and five people whose lives were saved by them in the past year. Two survivors from previous years were also in the crowd.
The event, which is sponsored by the Napa County EMS Society, is healing for emergency medical services personnel, said Nothmann.
“For us, this is what keeps us going, these memories of these success stories,” he said. “They keep us going through all the times that things don’t work out.”
Guests of the event included first responders from American Medical Response, and local police and fire departments, plus doctors, coworkers, neighbors, 911 dispatchers and bystanders who helped save the lives of survivors. They sat among towering barrels of Black Stallion wines and at tables accessorized with packs of tissues. Survivors from this year were signified with purple lei and survivors from years past wore white lei.
Doug Winters of American Canyon can still feel pain in his ribs from the CPR he received after he collapsed at his AmCor office in February, where he’s worked for 20 years. He was declared dead for 10 minutes, but fortunately for Winters, his coworkers knew CPR.
“All my stars were in line,” he said.
Firefighters shocked him twice and saved his life. The ordeal was caught on his office’s security camera, but Winters said he couldn’t bring himself to watch it.
His heart attack happened on a Friday and he didn’t wake up until the following Wednesday. He forgot the entire week before his heart attack, but remembered that American Canyon Fire Department personnel were there when he woke up.
“What these guys do is amazing,” he said.
On a Monday morning in February, Boris Guillome of Napa was working out at his south Napa gym, In-Shape, when he started to get chest pains. He said he chalked it up to stress and headed to the nearby theater to catch a movie.
Guillome took his seat, but the pain continued. It felt like a sumo wrestler was sitting on his chest, he said. He became dizzy.
He told one employee that he was having chest pains and she replied by asking if he wanted a refund. Guillome moved on.
He found another employee and explained his situation quickly before he sat down, blacked out and went into cardiac arrest.
That’s about the same time that Sean Reiswig, a construction worker who was planning to catch a movie with his family, saw Guillome. He told his family to go ahead, checked to see if he was breathing, rolled him onto his back and started performing CPR.
Reiswig’s father had died from a heart attack two weeks earlier. He said it was his first time performing CPR, but he didn’t hesitate.
Paramedics eventually arrived, shocked Guillome and brought back a pulse.
“I just want to spread some gratitude,” he said. “When you save a life, you don’t save one person, it’s a huge circle of people.”
The audience grew tense while it listened to the 911 call that came in when Guillome passed out. The crowd laughed as they heard dispatchers ask the caller to guess Guillome’s age. He hesitated, but said he was around his late 30s.
Guillome, who is 45, didn’t take it as an insult.
Napa resident Joaquin Brambila, who spoke through a translator, said he was driving down California Street when he passed out and experienced an unusual heart rhythm. Napa Police originally thought it was an accident, but quickly realized he was experiencing a medical emergency. The Napa Fire Department was on scene soon after and began to perform CPR.
He said he woke up in the hospital and was surprised to hear that his life had been saved. The Survivors’ Reunion is important to help people understand the hard work that emergency responders do, Brambila said. He was thankful to those who saved his life.
Charles Payne of Napa said he was sitting out on his deck last spring with his wife and a cup of coffee.
He fell asleep, but his wife knew something was wrong when he fell out of the chair. She called 911, and gave Payne CPR until emergency medics arrived.
Now, he said he much appreciates the work that first responders do.
“It’s good to be alive,” he said. “I take less for granted.”
An anonymous woman, who was not at the ceremony, was also honored. She reportedly said that all she remembered was heading out to run errands before collapsing to the ground. Bystanders saw her, and the Calistoga Police and Fire Departments were the first to respond.
Her heart started beating again, but a bit too fast, after she was put on an automatic CPR machine. She was taken to St. Helena Hospital where she recovered.
Betsy Stone of Sonoma, who was honored at last year’s reunion, was present too. She recalled passing out at her attorney’s office while waiting for a glass of ice water. Bystanders realized she had no pulse and staffers began to start CPR, she said.
Now, Stone is happy and healthy.
“I’m grateful for every day,” she said.
While most of us don’t think much of the sound of sirens, Pastor and chaplain Jim Warnock asked the audience to be grateful for them.
Sirens are a gift, he said, and so are the remarkable people behind them.