Team effort saves Basalt man after cardiac arrest
BASALT – Hector Vazquez of Basalt was taking a martial arts class one March evening at Basalt Middle School when he collapsed and hit the back of his head on the floor. He was unconscious, not breathing and soon turned blue.
He suffered cardiac arrest at about 6:15 p.m., causing the collapse. A coordinated string of actions taken by a long list of people followed over the next 10 minutes. The ordinary citizens who leapt into action and trained medical professionals who rushed to the scene not only saved Vazquez’s life, but spared him from brain damage and long-term major physical impairment by restoring his oxygen and blood flow so quickly.
Following is the sequence of events, pieced together from Basalt Fire Department records and multiple interviews with participants and Vazquez.
• Martial arts instructor Juan Alvarado rushes to Vazquez’s side after he collapsed. As luck would have it, he had taken a CPR class the day before at his place of employment in Snowmass Village. Alvarado’s son calls 911.
• A woman from Vazquez’s class dashes into the gym, where a crowd is watching a basketball game. The woman leaves and returns with a man who yells, “CPR, CPR” and points to the cafeteria. Basalt resident Brian Dillard was in the audience watching his daughter’s game. He rushes out to render aid.
• Dillard finds Vazquez “blue, like the sky blue” and takes over CPR efforts and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Vazquez responds with labored breathing for a while but then he stops breathing again. Dillard repeats his efforts.
• Greg Brose, who was also at the school and ran to assist, goes to the school office to retrieve an Automated External Defibrillator (AED), a portable electronic device that can detect cardiac arrhythmia and stop it with a shock.
• Brose and Basalt Police Officer Josh Bennet, who responds to the scene, apply the shock and restore Vazquez’s heartbeat. Pitkin County Deputy Sheriff Jim Hearn also responds and provides aid.
• Emergency medical responders from Basalt Fire Department arrive at 6:25 p.m., stabilize Vazquez with drugs and take him to Valley View Hospital. The severity of his condition requires his transport to University of Colorado Hospital in Denver.
It was a true team effort that kept Vazquez on the planet. “Oh, yeah,” said Basalt Fire Chief Scott Thompson. “It couldn’t have worked any better.”
Vazquez remembers nothing of his near-death experience. “I woke up in Denver three days later,” he said.
During the three days he was out, doctors were preparing his wife, Reynis, to care for an invalid. They said Vasquez likely wouldn’t be able to walk and that she would have to feed him and provide virtually all other care.
Vasquez defied the odds. Soon after he regained consciousness, he spoke to family members in both Spanish and English, removing fears he suffered brain damage. “The doctors were amazed,” he said.
Vazquez was amazed in following days to learn how everything fell together to keep him alive.
“They are my heroes,” he said of the people who stepped up to care for him. “I can’t thank them enough.”
Vazquez has seen Alvarado since returning to Basalt. “I said, ‘Thank you. My whole chest is hurting [from compression during CPR] but I’m here,'” he laughed.
He is eager to meet Dillard personally. “He’s the one – he’s the key to the whole puzzle,” Vazquez said.
He also wanted to make sure the emergency responders get their due. They are often taken for granted, Vazquez said, but the community needs to understand the great job they do and it needs to assist in whatever ways it can to make sure they have all the tools and equipment necessary for their jobs.
Vasquez knows better than anyone how important it is to have the portable AEDs available in public places. Thompson said grants have helped place them in various midvalley locations such as Town Hall, the library, the county building and in many police cars. Aspen has the devices at an estimated 30 locations.
Some private businesses also have AEDs, such as the Roaring Fork Club in Basalt.
“This is the first time that I know of that a community-access AED has saved a life in the midvalley,” Thompson said.
Vazquez said he wanted to keep some experiences in his near-death event private. Suffice to say, it was life changing. What struck him in the experience was the good in people.
“They didn’t care about my race,” he said. “They saved my life without thinking ‘Who’s this guy?’ They said, ‘There’s a human just about do die. Let’s help him.'”
The war mongers and many politicians turn people around the world against one another, Vazquez said. They make it hard for people to follow their instincts to provide compassion for one another.
He said his experience made him realize how lucky his family is to live in the Roaring Fork Valley. Hector and his wife have two daughters, one also named Reynis and Rotceh, one a student at Colorado Rocky Mountain School and the other at Basalt Middle School.
Vazquez feels he now has a special mission to help improve the community. He was already making a difference in the valley through his work at Habitat for Humanity. He’s worked there for 1 1/2 years, handling logistics for picking up donated household items for Habitat’s Restore.
One new way he plans to give back, he said, is to help people in his community understand the importance of caring for the environment. He also plans to help the fire department, in some way, after he fully recovers.
Vazquez, 46, said doctors found he had two blockages in a primary artery. One loosened and got stuck on the other, leading to cardiac arrest. He had triple bypass surgery to correct the problem. He wears an external defibrillator to keep his heart in rhythm. Doctors are monitoring his condition and may have to implant the device.
Another way he plans to help people is the spread the message of exercise, eating healthy and making regular visits to the doctor. He figures he’s got credentials for spreading that message.
“I’m just so grateful I’m here,” he said.
BASALT – The Basalt Town Council will issue community service awards Tuesday night to honor the residents and emergency responders who helped save the life of Hector Vazquez.
Those being honored will include residents Juan Alvarado, Brian Dillard, Greg Brose as well as Basalt Police Officer Josh Bennet and Pitkin County Deputy Sheriff Jim Hearn.
Several emergency medical responders will be honored, including Mark Van Wieren, Christine Benton, Kelley Burke, Marlen Wolfe, Chris Cohan and Bret Hitchcock.
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