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Calif. cardiac arrest survivor reunites with dispatcher, rescuers

San Diego Fire-Rescue Dispatcher Juliana Rubio has been on the job for 36 years and the reunion with the Haskins was only the second time a patient sought her out

By Karen Kucher
The San Diego Union-Tribune

SAN DIEGO -- Summer Haskins remembers opening the front door as her husband carried a pizza inside. Then she collapsed. The next thing she remembers was waking up in the hospital days later.

Kristopher Haskins immediately called 911. His wife, then 38 years old, was unconscious, barely breathing and turning purple. Dispatcher Juliana Rubio told him how to start CPR.

“Keep on doing it, keep on doing it. One, two. One, two. It should be hard work,” Rubio said during the recorded call. “If you’re doing it hard, you’re doing it effectively.”

On Wednesday, the couple went to Fire Station 21 in Pacific Beach to thank the dispatcher and firefighters who helped restart her heart after her sudden cardiac arrest in May 2022.

Rubio, who has been a dispatcher for 36 years, said it was only the second time a patient has sought her out. The other was a new mother who brought her a bottle of wine after she helped with the baby’s delivery.

Rubio frequently instructs callers how to give CPR — as many as a dozen times a shift. She doesn’t remember all the calls, but she did remember that one.

Because that day, all the stars aligned. “It was just serendipity,” she said.

Rubio initially dispatched a crew from Bay Park — but then, she saw the much closer Pacific Beach engine being released from a call and sent it instead. Within minutes, the crew was at the Navy housing where the Haskins lived.

Rubio said it was also lucky that Haskins’ medical emergency happened in front of her husband, not when she was out somewhere or alone. That meant Kristopher was able to start CPR immediately after calling 911.

He said he learned CPR in the Navy, and that training kicked in once Rubio gave him instructions.

“You’re very lucky,” Rubio told Summer after they met at Fire Station 21. “And you did a good job,” she told Kristopher, who gave her a bouquet.

While many calls run together in first responders’ minds — San Diego firefighters typically respond to more than 109,000 life-threatening emergency medical aid calls a year— this one left an impression on everyone.

Fire Capt. John Brubaker remembers how he felt for the Haskinses’ teen son, who had witnessed his mother’s medical emergency. Brubaker has a child who’s a similar age.

Engineer Albert Moreno, who was a firefighter/paramedic at the time, and Engineer Ruben De La Toba, also a firefighter at the time, both remember how they were able to get Haskins’ pulse back before she was taken to the hospital. That doesn’t always happen.

Summer, now 40, learned after she was out of the hospital that she has a rare genetic condition, long QT syndrome, a heart-signaling disorder.

She said she’s recovered completely and now takes a pill a day and has an implanted defibrillator. Medical tests showed her sons didn’t inherit the condition, she said.

Haskins said she’s glad she got a chance to thank those who helped her.

“They work so hard for our communities and they see a lot of bad stuff. Maybe this might change their life and show them that they are making a huge difference,” she said. “And we are super thankful for what they do.”

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