‘You’re a good neighbor:’ Ruedi Shores neighbors help save man’s life
Volunteer EMT was critical link in ‘chain of survival’ that saved neighbor’s life at Ruedi Shores
It pays to have good neighbors, especially when they have the ability to save your life.
When Brad Lundgren suffered cardiac arrest in a secluded subdivision overlooking Ruedi Reservoir during the early morning hours of Sept. 21, he was fortunate that his neighbor is a volunteer EMT with Roaring Fork Fire Rescue. Lundgren was even more fortunate that EMT AnaClarissa Norris happened to be awake at 3:38 a.m. and watching videos as part of her studies to become a nurse.
Norris saw the dispatcher’s emergency text page sent to Roaring Fork Fire Rescue members’ phones. She alerted her husband, Shaun, a volunteer paramedic with Roaring Fork Fire Rescue, and they were at the Lundgren’s door within 8 minutes of receiving the call.
It was part of a string of events that allowed the 68-year-old Lundgren to survive a heart incident commonly referred to as the “widow maker.”
That series of events, known among medical professionals as the “chain of survival,” started earlier in the early morning of Sept. 21. Lundgren rents a home in Ruedi Shores Subdivision with his wife, Mel. They are renting while they are completing construction on their dream home within the same subdivision.
Brad complained the prior day about intermittent pain between his shoulders, but he figured it was related to his work on the house. Brad had trouble sleeping, so he initially went to bed on a couch on the opposite side of the house from their bedroom. Sometime during the night, he returned to the bedroom. That was the first stroke of good luck because Mel was by his side when Brad experienced his incident. If he had still been on the couch, she would not have heard him.
“He was gasping for air,” Mel said late last week during a reunion that included her husband and life-saving neighbor. “I got out of bed and turned on the light and said, ‘You better not be kidding me because I’m calling 911.’”
Mel reached a Pitkin County emergency dispatcher who was extremely helpful and calmly got Mel to take action to help save Brad’s life. First, the dispatcher had Mel slide Brad off the bed and onto the floor, where CPR would be more effective. The dispatcher then walked Mel through the CPR procedure, having her press on his chest at regular intervals. The dispatchers on duty stayed on the telephone until the first ambulance arrived.
Rule to live by: Don’t give up
When the Norrises arrived, AnaClarissa found Brad unconscious with no pulse. His body was undertaking agonal respirations, sometimes referred to as fish breaths. The good news was he wasn’t turning purple yet from lack of oxygen in the body. AnaClarissa took over chest compressions from Mel.
“It’s all about the chain of survival — having someone like AnaClarissa who can take over for you,” said Roaring Fork Fire Rescue Chief Scott Thompson. One person generally cannot do the compression for an extended time because they get tired, he said.
The Norrises quickly consulted and decided Shaun should go to the fire station in Thomasville and retrieve an ambulance with an automated external defibrillator, or AED, a portable device that detects and interprets an electrocardiogram and, if necessary, allows the user to deliver an electrical shock. They figured even if he only beat the ambulance crew driving the twisty road from Basalt by a few minutes, it might be the difference between life and death.
That’s when a second stroke of good fortunate occurred. Mel recalled that Ruedi Shores had invested in two AEDs and placed them in the pump houses for the domestic water system. She dashed off to retrieve one while AnaClarissa maintained CPR.
Mel unsuccessfully searched one pump house for an AED in the pitch-black conditions before giving up and heading to the other. She parked her car so the lights shined in and found the equipment at the second stop.
When asked how she kept her composure, she replied, “I guess until it happens to you, you don’t know whether you’re going to have it or not. It was surreal. Even now talking about it, it doesn’t seem like it could have happened.”
While Mel was retrieving the AED, AnaClarissa was on her own to keep Brad alive. She kept performing CPR.
“That’s one rule: Don’t give up,” she said. “Medics are coming.”
She said she remembered thinking, “I can’t stop doing this. This man will die. There’s no Plan B. There’s just this plan.”
AnaClarissa said she started talking to Brad — telling him to hang on for his wife, for his grown children and to complete the beautiful house he was building.
“And then I didn’t know what to say anymore,” she said. “I started to pray out loud to God: ‘Please don’t let him go. He has a wife named Mel, he has children, he’s building this house. Please let what I’m doing be enough. Please don’t let me get tired.’”
AnaClarissa said she ended with an abrupt “Amen” when she heard Mel pull up to the house. Mel returned with the AED and AnaClarissa had her take over CPR. AnaClarissa then prepared the AED and attached electrodes to Brad’s chest. In less than four minutes from Mel’s return with the AED, it was attached and had completed its initial analysis. It instructed AnaClarissa to apply a shock to try to jump-start Brad’s heart.
The two women knew there was going to be a shock applied and a reaction by Brad’s body, but they were still startled when it happened. They resumed CPR after the shock. The AED performed another analysis after two minutes from the shock and said no further shock was advised.
The first ambulance crew arrived from Basalt at 4:08 a.m. AnaClarissa and Mel had alternated performing the vital chest compressions on Brad for 23 minutes after AnaClarissa arrived.
Beating the long odds
The ambulance crew took over care of Brad and placed an automatic compression device similar to a toilet plunger on his chest. At 4:09 a.m., their equipment detected further issues and advised another shock. After it was applied, Brad’s heart started beating stronger and rescuers could detect a pulse. Meanwhile, a second ambulance arrived from Basalt, and Shaun returned from Thomasville. Brad had roughly 12 medical professionals working to save his life.
The medical personnel arranged a transport from Classic Air Medical, a medical helicopter affiliated with Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs. Roaring Fork Fire Rescue personnel located an ideal landing site just a short distance from the Lundgren’s rental house, in a grass lot that had a mowed section. Brad was loaded into an ambulance and transported to the site. The helicopter landed at Ruedi Shores at 4:47 a.m. that Tuesday and whisked Brad off to the hospital.
Brad made a full recovery and was released four days later, on a Saturday.
When the Lundgrens met Thursday at their home construction site with Norris and Thompson to recount the ordeal, the fire chief laid out the long odds Brad faced.
“For every minute that we’re doing CPR, your chances of surviving are going into the basement,” Thompson said. “You’re like one in a thousand, if not a higher percentage.”
Brad replied, “I’m a lucky guy.”
“The luckiest,” his wife added.
During treatment, Brad was placed in a coma and slowly brought out of it. He had suffered complete blockage of one artery and extensive blockage of another. Two stents were placed in the arteries. A brain scan revealed no damage.
“That was an answer to a prayer right there,” Mel said. “The fact that you were alive was a miracle. But the fact that you came through it with no organ damage and no brain damage …” She didn’t complete the sentence but the meaning is clear.
‘I slept through the whole thing’
The Lundgrens’ connection to AnaClarissa didn’t stop in that chaotic morning. AnaClarissa also trains at Valley View as part of her nursing education. Colleagues were amazed to learn she was “the neighbor” who Mel was raving to everyone about. On the Friday after the incident, a nurse introduced Brad and AnaClarissa.
AnaClarissa recalled the introduction this way to Brad: “The nurse said, ‘Ana helped save your life. She’s your neighbor.’ You looked at me, you held your hand out to me to shake my hand and then you were like, ‘You saved my life.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I did a little bit of work.’”
AnaClarissa continued, “And then you go, ‘You’re a good neighbor.’ That was the icing on the cake for me, ‘You’re a good neighbor.’”
She marveled at how Brad smiled, laughed and flashed his wit in the hospital so soon after his ordeal. He was, however, deemed a flight risk by the nurses and assigned a room right by the nurses’ station so he couldn’t depart prematurely.
Brad said he didn’t have any recollection of the heart attack. He also cannot remember the day before the incident.
“Right now, I really don’t have much recall of the whole thing,” he said. “To me, it’s a big to-do about nothing. I’m amazed by it. I slept through the whole thing.”
He demonstrated he still has that quick wit. “This is payback for my years of teaching Sunday school maybe,” he said. “I was putting some in the bank.”
His first thought after his release was he was going to have to plumb the laundry room of the new house. Bonus! He learned he already completed that task. The carpenter is slowly resuming construction, with Mel supervising Brad’s activity level.
Brad said the heart attack didn’t come as a complete shock, upon reflection. His grandfather died from blockage of arteries at age 59. His father died of blockage of arteries at age 66.
Brad is on medication to help his heart as part of his ongoing care.
Thompson said there are important lessons from Brad’s ordeal. First, people must recognize warning signs, he said. When in doubt, have a doctor check it out.
Second, AEDs are essential. Roaring Fork Fire Rescue has placed AEDs in schools, gyms and public buildings — any place where people regularly congregate. It is rare for rural subdivisions in the Roaring Fork Valley to invest in them, but this incident shows it is a wise investment, he said.
“Electricity saves lives,” Thompson said. “That’s the bottom line.”
The differences between Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo and Michael Buglione — whether professional, political or personal — were on full display at Thursday’s candidate debate held in Aspen.