Man credits bystanders' quick response for saving his life
Steve Pew isn't much of a dancer these days. The 63-year-old Ludlow, Mo., resident would be the first one to admit it. But when his sister-in-law, Vickie Rohrback, invited him to join her on the dance floor at the Battle of the Bands on May 4 at Elks Lodge 656 in Chillicothe, Steve didn't hesitate. The pair danced twice with no problems. When Steve pulled himself out of his chair for a third dance, he collapsed to the floor — that's the last thing he remembers about the Battle of the Bands.
Saturday, May 4, was unusually cool this year. Summer was just around the corner, but a high of only 51 degrees caused impatience in northern Missouri. Steve and his wife, Tonie, had planned to attend a wedding in the country that evening, but the poor weather made dancing in a warm place more appealing than sitting in a cold barn.
"I knew Vickie was wanting to dance," Steve said. "My wife said 'Dance with my sis. Dance with my sis.' So I did. First time, we went solo out there. Next time we danced, there was a few more out there. The third time, I remember Vickie tapping me on the shoulder. I got up, and that's all I remember."
Steve was having a heart attack. A traumatic experience for him, of course, but a troubling experience for his wife and sister-in-law, as well. Vickie and Tonie witnessed Vickie's husband, Butch Rohrback, die of a heart attack in January 2012. Tonie said watching her husband collapse to the floor of the Elks Lodge was frighteningly similar.
"He was on the floor, and I went to him," Tonie said. "I was slapping him on the face because I thought he had just knocked himself out. I kept yelling at him 'Steve, come back, come back. I love you, come back to me.' Then, I really looked at his face, and he started to turn blue. I thought 'Oh, he's in trouble.' I just turned and I screamed as loud as I could 'Call 911, he's turning blue.'"
Seconds later, a man named Jim Sprong came to Steve's aid. Sprong began pumping on Steve's chest with a rhythm that was fast and forceful. Less than a minute later, Steve's pulse returned. For Tonie, it felt like an eternity.
"It seemed like it was forever before they told me that he had a pulse," Tonie explained. "I was scared."
Three nurses were also at the Elks Lodge that evening. Hedrick Medical Center employees Lea Anderson, Teri McVey and Kylee Reeter assisted Sprong before emergency medical technicians and paramedics arrived.
"We were quite a few tables away," McVey said. "By the time we noticed something was wrong, (Sprong) was already doing compressions. We rolled him on his side. He lost his pulse, and we started in with CPR again just before the ambulance arrived."
Four members of the Chillicothe Fire Department arrived just four minutes after a bystander's call to 911. Lieutenant/EMT Les Hinnen, Firefighter/EMT Les McMahan, Firefighter/Paramedic Mike Vaught and Firefighter/Paramedic Rob Williams were the men who took the call. Hinnen said the seriousness of the situation was not clear until they arrived at the Elks Lodge.
"We have two different ideas of a heart attack," Hinnen explained. "We're thinking a guy was having chest pains. We came and found a guy on the floor getting CPR. He was unconscious and not breathing. We often respond to calls where some people are sitting there talking to you with chest pains and call it a heart attack."
Steve regained consciousness, and a bit of unintentional humor, during the two-mile trip from the Elks Lodge to Hedrick Medical Center.
"To be honest with you, I was scared to death," Steve said. "I didn't know where I was at. I didn't know anyone. I guess I got on Rob's case and told him he was ugly."
After two hours at Hedrick, Steve was taken by ambulance to Kansas City. On May 7, he returned to his home just north of Ludlow.
It has been nearly six weeks since Steve's heart attack. He is still sore from the CPR he received on the floor of the Elks Lodge, but feeling fine otherwise. He comes to Chillicothe a few times a week for therapy. The sessions feature a combination of treadmill, stationary bicycle and weight training. He hopes to return to his truck driving job with YRC Freight in Kansas City in the near future.
In less than 14 minutes, Steve Pew fell to the floor of the Elks Lodge, was resuscitated by CPR and was transported by ambulance to Hedrick Medical Center. Quick action by Sprong, the nurses, and the ambulance crew is what saved Steve's life.
"It's because of early CPR," Anderson said. "The brain is deprived of oxygen."
Steve said the experience has opened his eyes to the importance of CPR. So much, in fact, that Steve plans to earn his certification in CPR as his health improves.
Steve said he is thankful to have survived the heart attack. Tonie is equally thankful to still have her husband by her side.
"There's a lot of good people in this world," Tonie said. You just don't run across them too often. The good Lord was with us. All of his guardian angels were there."
On June 7, Steve met with personnel from Hedrick Medical Center and the Chillicothe Fire Department during a lunch at the Chillicothe Country Club. His eyes began to fill with tears as he expressed his gratitude toward those who assisted him a month earlier.
"I owe my life to some people," Steve said. "I'll never forget that."