Fmr. Conn. FF credits colleagues, LUCAS device for saving his life
When Russ Winters was found unresponsive, his wife began doing chest compressions, then his daughter took over until paramedics arrived
By Brian Zahn
New Haven Register
WEST HAVEN, Conn. — Robin Winters thought her husband, Russ, was rustling around in the bedroom closet.
They had been carrying on a lighthearted conversation from different rooms of their home when she heard the noise; when Russ stopped responding she investigated and found him collapsed over an ottoman, his lips blue.
Russ Winters was having another heart attack. His position as a utility firefighter at the West Shore Fire District starting in 1999 came to an end in May 2019 when he had his first major cardiac event due to aortic valve disease at age 60.
“They don’t let you do interior anymore after that,” said Winter, who survived because of the quick response from his family and responding paramedics. Although his community spirit continues, his career as a utility firefighter was over.
After having open heart surgery following the 2019 incident, Winter was in and out of hospitals for months due to an infection that turned into sepsis.
On Feb. 4, 2023, when Robin Winters discovered her husband out cold in the bedroom over the ottoman, only she and her daughter were home; the previous time, the couple’s son, a trained paramedic, was able to administer CPR before on-duty paramedics arrived. Robin Winters said they were not getting any reception on their cellphones to call 911, so it was fortunate the Winters household has a landline.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nine out of 10 people who have a cardiac arrest outside of a hospital die, although there are disparities based on income and race, and the administration of CPR can double or triple the odds of survival.
Russ Winters does not remember collapsing and spent only 12 days in the hospital before being discharged, a far less challenging ordeal than what he encountered in 2019. What he does remember, was that he “had no chest pains beforehand and felt fine.”
Robin Winters, however, remembers it all too well, having witnessed it.
“It was awful,” she said. “They shocked him and it’s nothing like on TV.”
Because Russ Winters was a utility firefighter until 2019, he was known to the responding paramedics. “They were all his friends,” Robin said. “There were so many people in this house.”
West Shore Fire Chief Stephen Scafariello said his firefighters and paramedics “do a great job every day” and respond to every call with the same amount of urgency and competency.
Russ Winters said he is very familiar with the multiple jobs his former colleagues did when they arrived, including administering amiodarone and intubating him. Scafariello said there are many things that must be done by a crew of paramedics working in a swift and organized fashion; one of those things is chest compressions. However, compressions require one person’s constant attention and can get tiring very quickly.
Robin Winters said her daughter took over doing compressions for approximately five to 10 minutes, and “her arms were sore for weeks.”
Once paramedics arrived at the Winters household, compressions were not handled by a person, but by machine.
In October 2020, West Haven’s three fire districts combined their purchasing power to obtain machines called a Lund University Cardiopulmonary Assist System — the LUCAS — for each district. In August 2021, West Shore purchased a second LUCAS for $14,656.
“It’s ready at all times,” Scafariello said.
The battery-powered machine can be strapped onto a patient in cardiac arrest, delivering consistent compressions. The advantages, Scafariello said, are that it frees up at least one paramedic responding to a call and prevents the natural issue of fatigue. Scafariello said the machine, which is not widely known outside of EMT circles, is a tremendous advantage to his paramedics and to the community in saving lives.
“It means someone else is free to start an IV or push meds or intubate,” he said. “There’s a lot in our protocol that we have to accomplish.”
Although Scafariello said the LUCAS device is a tremendous help, it’s not a panacea and it’s not a replacement for immediate intervention.
“Having his wife and daughter do bystander intervention helped. His family starting CPR when they did helped us save his life,” he said.