'Just like angels': Patient, wife meet San Diego providers who restarted his heart

Steve Cline suffered cardiac arrest and did not regain consciousness for three days, but he said "the biggest miracle is that my brain is OK"


Karen Kucher
The San Diego Union-Tribune

SAN DIEGO — A 70-year-old North Park man who suffered a sudden cardiac arrest in December — and his wife, who did chest compressions until help arrived — got the chance Wednesday to meet and thank the first responders who rushed to their aid.

Steve and Annette Cline shook hands and posed for pictures with the firefighters, paramedics, EMTs and a dispatcher in front of a shiny, red firetruck inside San Diego Fire-Rescue Department's Station 14 on 32nd Street.

Steve and Annette Cline shook hands and posed for pictures with the firefighters, paramedics, EMTs and a dispatcher Wednesday inside the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department's Station 14.
Steve and Annette Cline shook hands and posed for pictures with the firefighters, paramedics, EMTs and a dispatcher Wednesday inside the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department's Station 14. (Photo/Kristian Carreon/Tribune News Service)

"They are just like angels," Annette said.

First responders say they rarely get the chance to follow up with patients after they've been taken to the hospital. And often, the news isn't good when someone's heart stops and their brain is deprived of oxygen.

In December, the couple was watching TV at their home. Cline said he wasn't feeling well and then, his wife said, he "threw his head back, he gasped, and he was still."

Annette called 911.

Dispatcher Chris Cook told Cline — who didn't know how to do CPR — to get her husband onto the floor and instructed her on how to perform chest compressions, counting along with her as she pressed on his chest. When firefighters and police were nearby, he had her go unlock the front door.

She told him: "You had that tone I needed at the time."

Paramedics were able to get his heart going, but it stopped again in the ambulance and then again in the ER. Cline said his heart wasn't beating for about 43 minutes, in all. Once he was in the hospital, he didn't regain consciousness until the third day.

But since then, he said he's fully recovered.

"I feel wonderful. I had cardiac arrest, a pulmonary embolism, and I've been fully checked out by two cardiologists and a pulmonologist. Frankly, the biggest miracle is that my brain is OK," he said. "Truthfully, my short-term memory now is better than it was before."

In fact, his only complaint is a sore left shoulder caused when his wife — following the dispatcher's directions — pulled him to the floor from the couch. He said he's going to physical therapy for that.


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The couple brought cookies to the fire station a couple of times after Steve finished speech therapy in mid-February. But Wednesday was their first chance to see everyone who worked to help save his life — and to give hugs.

The couple said more than 1,000 people prayed for Cline after a friend involved with prayer groups spread word of his emergency. They think it helped in his recovery.

City officials said Cline also benefited from a new piece of equipment on the ambulance, something called a LUCAS device that delivers uninterrupted chest compressions. He was the first patient the device was used on, the ambulance crew said.

First responders said it was great meeting Cline and his wife.

"It is a pretty surreal feeling," said Breanna Moreland, a firefighter/EMT. "This is what we do; this is what we are trained to do. To see someone come back and thank us and be completely healthy, it is incredible."

Cook, who has been a dispatcher for 3 1/2 years, said he uses a "directive tone" when he's giving instructions, especially if a caller sounds like they might be panicking. "I try to take every call like ... I'm talking to a family member," he said.

He said he enjoyed meeting the Clines and hearing how he helped.

"This is the second patient I've ever met, second CPR (case)," said Cook, whose mother also worked as a dispatcher. "A lot of times in dispatch, after we get off the phone with them, it is a closed situation. It is not very often we get to meet someone. It is a life-changing experience."

As for the future, Steve Cline said he plans to write a book about their experiences. And, his wife said, they have signed up to take CPR classes.

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This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.

©2022 The San Diego Union-Tribune

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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