Man overdoses twice in 24 hours, comes back to thank his rescuers

Steve Sundquist said he has been sober since enrolling in a 75-day treatment program

By Alexandra Seltzer
The Palm Beach Post

BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. — While responding to drug-overdose calls several times a day, it’s not unheard of for paramedics to save the life of one person only to have that same person overdose again within 24 hours.

But it is rare for that person to get sober, and then want to meet the team that saved his life.

Steve Sundquist thanked the paramedics who saved his life.
Steve Sundquist thanked the paramedics who saved his life. (Photo/Boynton Beach Fire Rescue)

It happened with Steve Sundquist in Boynton Beach. One day in March he was found in a car and paramedics had to break a window to reach him and pump him with Narcan, an anti-overdose drug. And later, he was found at home on his living room floor blue in the face and foaming at the mouth.

Heroin, both times, Sundquist said.

Now, he said, he is clean — and full of gratitude.

So he reached out to his rescuers at Boynton Beach Fire Rescue, a move that inspired them to share his story on Facebook.

“I felt like they deserve that. There are so many people that they save their lives everyday and they don’t get enough credit for the job that they do,” Sundquist, 28, said. “They deserve that from me. I think it gives them hope.”

It started with a card. Sundquist sent a thank you note to fire department administrators. Mike Landress, the department’s emergency medical services coordinator, let the lieutenants know about it, and they contacted Sundquist. Sundquist visited the paramedics Monday.

After he overdosed twice, Sundquist enrolled himself in a 75-day treatment program in Baton Rouge, La. He said he’s been sober since.

“I died. I never experienced an overdose in my life let alone two in the same day and it just freaked me the hell out,” Sundquist said. “I knew I had to change something.”

Sundquist, originally from Tampa, started on prescription pain medicine after “Tommy John” elbow surgery from a baseball injury. When he couldn’t get legal drugs anymore, he turned to heroin.

In South Florida for recovery, he struggled, unable to stick with a plan until his overdoses in March. Now he said he has a good support group and lives a healthy life.

Sundquist said reuniting with the paramedics brought tears to his eyes.

The paramedics also were touched.

“We run on so many overdoses down here everyday now that it’s our new norm. … So to have somebody come back and talk to you and tell you how appreciative they are and see how clean and sober they are, it means a lot,” Lt. Joe Senseman said.

The reunion prompted Landress, the EMS coordinator, to share the story with the public. He posted on the department’s Facebook page a photo of the paramedics and Sundquist with this message, describing a common scene firefighters confront:

Curled up on a tousled bed in a tiny motel room, a gaunt, young male with grimy hair lies motionless. A syringe dangles from a lifeless arm as white froth oozes from blue lips. His boyish, but unkempt face is marred with acne and dark circles. Blood flow has ceased causing purple, blotchy patches to cover his cool, ashen skin. His clothes are soiled and the stench of urine envelopes the musty room. A veteran police officer rifles through a discarded wallet on the night stand searching for identification. A father, mother or close relative will soon receive a ghastly call.

It is a vivid example of another young life lost — succumbed to the power of addiction via a lethal mixture of street heroin and fentanyl. Unfortunately, this situation has become all too familiar to our firefighter-paramedics and police officers. It is common for our department, like many other departments in South Florida, to respond to heroin overdoses on a daily basis. And, it is not unusual for us to respond to several during a 24-hour shift.

It is simply the new norm.

However, there is hope in the midst of this opioids epidemic. The post relates Sundquist’s tale, continuing:

After gaining nearly 40 pounds and celebrating over 100 days of sobriety, the young man now has a job and is truly grateful for every day as he works to build a new life. He wanted to personally thank our crew members who cared for him on that evening last March. The BBFRD would like to express its utmost gratitude to Steve for having the courage and strength to share his story and images of addiction with the hope it may help others.

Landress said he decided to share the story because Sundquist wanted people to know his success story.

“I give him all the kudos in the world for showing the courage and the strength to come forward like that and want his story out there,” Landress said. “We helped him but he also helped us. Because it does such wonders for the firefighters- paramedics’ morale when they see these success stories regarding addiction because they’re very, very extremely rare.”

After the reunion, the paramedics went back to work only to find more of the same. One fatal drug overdose. Two who survived.

Senseman said he thought of Sundquist while talking to one of the survivors. The man said he probably wouldn’t change his habits and was depressed about his situation.

“I said there is hope. Me and the other medic … let him know about Steve and said anybody can make a change but they need help,” Senseman said.

Copyright 2017 The Palm Beach Post

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