Joel Stonington
Aspen, CO Colorado

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November 27, 2007
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Wedding guests save heart attack victim

ASPEN " Guests at Saturday's wedding reception at Bumps Restaurant at Buttermilk were just starting to head home when the grandfather of the bride collapsed of a heart attack on the dance floor.

Not 10 minutes later, Paul Copsey, who is in his late 70s, was breathing and, by the time he was at Aspen Valley Hospital, joking around with the nurses.

For those attending the wedding festivities for Bobby Cluck and Terri Dangler, the moments during which Copsey died and was brought back to life are already indelibly entered into their minds. For many, the minutes stretched into what seemed an eternity, as Copsey's daughters kneeled at his side while two wedding guests performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and a third retrieved a defibrillator.

Though many believe CPR to be widely successful, the American Heart Association reports that roughly 95 percent of sudden cardiac arrest victims die before arriving at the hospital and 900 Americans die every day because of them.

"[Copsey] was out dancing with his two daughters and his granddaughter," said Meg Dangler, sister-in-law of the bride. "He said he was getting hot. He went to open his coat jacket and fell straight backwards. His granddaughter rested his head on her legs and she later said she heard him take his last breath."

It was then, at 9 p.m., that the wedding party ground to a halt.

"Someone started yelling, 'We need a doctor, someone is down,'" said Amy Covington, who was on the opposite end of the room talking with friends and relatives. "I just started running and saw [Copsey] lying flat on his back. He was gray and not breathing and from there it turned into an out-of-body experience. He had no pulse. I ripped his shirt open, looked around the room for someone to help me; suddenly my husband was at my side."

Covington and her husband, Rob, immediately started in on two-person CPR. She is a physician's assistant at Aspen Medical Care and Rob has experience with CPR from the military.

"People were scared and there was definitely some praying going on," Rob Covington said. "For the family it was very intense. There was a lot of crying. The two daughters were being his cheerleaders, saying 'c'mon Paul don't give up,' and I think that probably helped."

Another wedding guest was Mike Lyons, a paramedic who has been with the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department for 10 years. Though he had been just about to leave with his wife, he ran over when he heard what was happening and arrived just as the Covingtons began CPR.

Luckily, Lyons had brought his truck to the wedding. As a member of the fire department, Lyons has been given an automatic external defibrillator (AED) to carry in the truck for emergencies. Though he has used a defibrillator in an ambulance as a paramedic, he had never used the AED before.

"It took me a minute," Lyons said. "You're at a wedding. You're not exactly in responding mode. You're thinking about having a great time. I wasn't exactly in that frame of mind. It seemed like minutes for my mind to catch up and think of the AED in my truck but it was probably seconds because everything was in motion."

The Covingtons did CPR for about five or six minutes, until Lyons returned with the AED and got the electric paddles attached to Coveys chest. When they shocked him, Covey started spontaneous breathing quickly afterward.

"It was pretty emotional for everyone there, watching it," Amy Covington said. "It's pretty dramatic. [For CPR] to be done on someone you know and love I can't imagine how hard it would be."

Copsey was regaining consciousness as the ambulance arrived and Amy said he was slightly combative, a normal response. She said she thought he was trying to say something and when she leaned down, he just kept saying, "Good-bye."

"I said, 'Not yet,'" Amy recalled. "I quickly told everybody that he was ready to say good-bye and that they needed to get there. Within an hour in the ER he was making jokes with the nurses."

Most of the wedding party went to the ER after the ambulance left and numerous people said there was something a bit funny about everyone sitting around in the AVH waiting room with tuxedos and dresses on. Guests went in by pairs around 1 a.m. to talk with Copsey.

Copsey was flown to a hospital in Denver on Sunday morning and two stints were put into clogged arteries. Relatives said the prognosis for Copsey is good and that he will be flying back to his home in Ohio on Thursday.

It was unusual that Copsey had even made the trip to Aspen and likely would not have except that the bride's other grandfather died in August.

"I guess Paul was crying harder than anyone else and said that he had missed out on family stuff and said he wasn't missing out on anymore," said Meg Dangler. "It was very special that he made the trip."

Bobby and Terri Cluck, who will reside in Aspen, are headed to a cabin Estes Park for their honeymoon and could not be reached for comment. But the doctor in Denver reportedly said that if their marriage is as strong as Copsey's recovery, then they are in luck.

"[Copsey] said that the man upstairs gave him another chance," said Dan Dangler Sr., the father of the bride. "If he had been anywhere else he would have been gone."

Joel Stonington's e-mail address is jstonington@aspentimes.com.


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The Aspen Times Updated Nov 27, 2007 07:42AM Published Nov 27, 2007 01:34AM Copyright 2007 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.