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Ala. first responders, bystanders recognized for quick work to save shopper having heart attack

“We’re really proud how this showed the whole system works, from the dispatcher, the firefighters to the bystanders,” said Decatur Fire & Rescue Fire Chief Tracy Thornton


Photo/Decatur Fire & Rescue

Bayne Hughes
The Decatur Daily

DECATUR, Ala. — Patrick Swinea was standing in the Publix deli line on a Saturday evening in June when the man in front of him suddenly collapsed.

Christos Kakaras was having a major heart attack at around 6 p.m. on June 25 at the Beltline Road Southwest grocery store, and Swinea stepped in to help.

“I could tell the guy was in distress,” said Swinea, a physical therapist at DOC Orthopedics and Sports Medicine. “They teach us now to do compression-only CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). We could not find a pulse.”

Swinea and others quickly began emergency treatment, called for first responders, and helped save Kakaras’ life.

On Monday, the city recognized the combined efforts of Swinea, Publix Manager Brad Evans and employee Donna Wise, Morgan County 911 dispatcher Ryan Burns and Decatur Fire & Rescue firefighters in aiding Kakaras.

The resolution from Mayor Tab Bowling and the City Council recognized the participants for their “courageous and lifesaving actions.”

“We’re really proud how this showed the whole system works, from the dispatcher, the firefighters to the bystanders,” Fire Chief Tracy Thornton said.

While Swinea did CPR, Evans retrieved the store’s automatic defibrillator and Wise called 911.

Swinea and Thornton both said the fact Publix keeps an automatic defibrillator in the store was key to saving Kakaras’ life.

The fire chief said Burns did a great job as a dispatcher in calmly working with the people seeking to resuscitate Kakaras on the scene as Decatur Fire & Rescue’s firefighters from stations 5 and 7 responded.

“He (Burns) stayed calm, cool and collected, giving orders as Evans (relayed to Wise) what to do,” Thornton said. “They defibrillated the victim one time before our crew arrived on the scene. He still was not breathing and didn’t have a pulse.”

Thornton said the firefighters put a Lund University Cardiopulmonary Assist System (LUCAS) device on Kakaras and started other emergency measures.

The firefighters started noticing some movement from Kakaras as they loaded him into the ambulance and the LUCAS device showed he had a pulse, Thornton said.

Swinea said he wasn’t sure at the time whether Kakaras would survive, but it was good to hear he was moving and there was a pulse when he left the grocery store.

Thornton said Decatur Morgan Hospital Ambulance Service then transported Kakaras to Huntsville Hospital.

“By the time they got to the hospital, Mr. Kakaras was laughing and talking to them,” Thornton said.

Kakaras is now in rehab and is hopeful he will go home in two or three weeks, the chief said.

Kakaras made a recorded message for the council meeting: “This Fire Department has given me my life back, and I would like to thank them.”


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