Basalt, Snowmass lifesavers honored for fast action in three cardiac arrest cases |

Basalt, Snowmass lifesavers honored for fast action in three cardiac arrest cases

Scott Schwarting, middle, gives Basalt Police Officer Jason Hegberg a hug Sept. 17 during a ceremony honoring first responders for saving lives of three cardiac arrest victims this year. Hegberg performed CPR on Schwarting. Roaring Fork Fire Rescue Chief Scott Thoompson looks on.
Scott Condon/The Aspen Times


The following is a list of first responders, doctors and communication dispatchers who played a role in helping save three victims of cardiac arrest this year in Snowmass Village and Basalt. On Sept. 17, they received American Heart Association Heartsaver Hero Awards, lifesaving commendations and, in some cases, both.

Meg Braisted, John Young, Andrew Rushing, Brian Vanderpool, James Dirkes, Cody Scoles, Ben Smith, Jennifer Diamond, Liesel Hadfield, Dave Heivly, Brian Olson, Richard Cornelius, David Klebes, Justin Kosow, Maureen McPhee (who responded to two of the events), Daniel Palmer, Owen Ramberg, Dr. Bruce Bowen, Lucretia Donovan, Tabitha McKinney, Kyle Nelson, Steven Rowles, Jason Hegberg, Broc Brown, Reggie Charles, Holly Goldstein, Jason Hutter, Tucker Kinney, Kyle Pimentel, Robert Sardinsky and Cleve Williams.

Fifty or so police officers, communications dispatchers, firefighters and paramedics gathered at the Roaring Fork Fire Rescue station at El Jebel on Sept. 17 for a different kind of meeting than usual.

Instead of training to better handle the next life-threatening incident, the first responders were there to celebrate successfully saving lives, three lives specifically.

“We see a lot of horrible things,” said Roaring Fork Fire Rescue Chief Scott Thompson. “A lot of responders in this room see things you never want to remember. It affects us. We lose dispatchers. We lose police officers. We lose paramedics all the time. That’s the bad part of the job, because of the bad outcomes.

“We’re here today to celebrate three great outcomes,” Thompson continued.

Over a seven-month period this year, first responders teamed up to save three men in separate incidents who experienced full cardiac arrest. Two of the emergencies were in Snowmass Village and one was in Basalt. In all three cases, the men made full recoveries without neurological damage.

Richard Cornelius, a division chief for Roaring Fork Fire Rescue, said national data indicate about 10 percent of sudden cardiac arrest victims survive. Often, he said, the survivors are not “neurologically intact.”

Thompson said acting quickly to save lives is what it is all about for the responders — from the people taking the 911 calls, to police officers who often are first to arrive on the scene, and the paramedics who work to get the victims to the hospital as quickly as possible.

“Everybody that’s here should be proud of these responses,” Thompson said.

To drive the point home, two of the men that survived cardiac arrest were at the event. Dr. Scott Akin, a radiologist based in Snowmass Village, and Scott Schwarting, a doctor of veterinary medicine in the valley, delivered an emotional thank-you to their lifesavers.

Akin said he knew he was dying on the front porch of his family’s Snowmass Village home Jan. 12.

His wife asked him if she needed to call 911. “I said, ‘Yeah, absolutely,’” Akin recalled. “I knew if we got in the car to try to make it to the hospital, I would have died in the car. It’s that feeling of impending death that I hope you never have to experience, but when it comes, you know it and it’s real.”

Paramedics from Roaring Fork Fire Rescue responded to the residence within three minutes, picked Akin off the icy ground and helped him to an ambulance. While dashing through Basalt en route to Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, Akin went into full cardiac arrest.

Paramedics performed CPR and undertook other emergency care to keep Akin alive. He was in the catheterization laboratory for assessment at Valley View less than one hour after his wife made the 911 call.

Akin said he made a full recovery with no neurological damage. He thanked all involved for a flawless performance while responding to his incident.

“That’s 100 percent why I had a good outcome,” he said. “Everything that had to go right went right — quick intervention, quick CPR, quickly (transported) to the cath lab.

“I’m standing here today because of you guys — your response times, your reactions. You acted absolutely flawlessly, everything you did, each and every one of you,” Akin continued. “I wanted to give you guys credit for doing your jobs at the absolute highest level of excellence.”

Akin then delivered an inspirational line that most workers will never hear in a lifetime: “If there is ever a day that any of you question why you do what you do, I’m the reason, so thank you very much.”

Schwarting delivered an equally stirring tribute to the responders. He said he had returned home after working out at a gym and experienced an unusual feeling that started in his chest, moved down his arms and into his face. He realized he needed help so he went to Aspen Valley Hospital After Hours Medical Care in Basalt.

Shortly after arriving at the hospital, Schwarting went into full cardiac arrest. Nearby doctors and Basalt police officer Jason Hegberg were the first responders who administered lifesaving CPR and defibrillation before the ambulance arrived. Paramedics provided critical care while taking Schwarting to Valley View.

“Everything fell into place exactly the way it needed to,” Schwarting said. “It’s humbling and the sense of gratitude that I have is overwhelming.”

Schwarting said he also fully recovered from the incident. He noted that the multiple cases of live-saving actions speak well about the system and personnel in place in the Roaring Fork Valley.

A third victim, an 81-year-old New York City resident who spends time in Snowmass Village, was walking his bicycle up the steep Snowmelt Road in Snowmass this summer when he went into cardiac arrest. Snowmass Police Chief Brian Olson and Officer Dave Heivly started CPR and used the defibrillator to treat the man until the ambulance crew arrived. The man returned to New York and is “back to normal,” according to his wife, Heivly said.

A total of 31 people — from dispatchers to doctors — were awarded Sept. 17 with American Heart Association Heartsaver Hero Awards for their roles in the three incidents.

In addition to the Heartsaver Hero Awards, lifesaving commendations were granted to some of the first responders. Hegberg and paramedic David Klebes were credited with their second lifesaving actions during their careers.

Cornelius coordinated the awards ceremony and received one himself for actions in the bicyclist’s incident. He said the key to positive outcomes in cardiac arrest cases is a “chain of survival” that features someone picking up a phone and seeking help early in the incident, early CPR and defibrillation, and early access to advanced life support.

“Every minute that you delay care — that’s delaying CPR, delaying defibrillation — the victim’s chances of survival go down seven to ten percent,” Cornelius said. To have three victims not only survive but be discharged with no brain injury is extremely rare, he said.

The ceremony wrapped up with a short, powerful comment by Thompson. He recalled that Akin stopped by the fire station a few days after he was released from the hospital last winter and told him, “The biggest thing for me is my sons still have their father.”

“To this day, I still think about that,” an emotional Thompson said. “Everybody in this room has impacted three families in a huge way. You should be very proud and it should motivate you to move forward.”


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