Multi-agency response saves Pa. hunter experiencing cardiac arrest in woods
Seven departments were involved in locating, treating and transporting the 72-year-old hunter in cardiac arrest
By Mike Crowley
The Meadville Tribune
MEADVILLE, Pa. — Dragging one doe out of the woods and with another already down behind him, things appeared to be going well the last time 72-year-old Gary Miller went hunting in woods.
“It was a very good day hunting,” Miller said Friday, recalling the morning of Nov. 25 during a gathering inside Meadville Central Fire Station on Friday, “right up until the incident.”
The “incident” began with chest pain as Miller, who was hunting by himself, called 911 on his flip phone to report his growing distress.
“I am what they call a technological dinosaur,” Miller said, regarding the old school phone and his lack of familiarity with the more common smartphone devices that are the norm today. “I wouldn’t know how to operate one of those things.”
Miller himself would likely be extinct today if not for a fortuitous combination of human determination and advanced technology. Many of the people who worked together to bring him back gathered Friday evening for a recognition ceremony at Meadville Central.
The event came less than three weeks after paramedic Corry Fenton and firefighter Dan Serafin found Miller deep in the woods sandwiched between Mullen Road and Interstate 79 .
They found Miller in cardiac arrest, unresponsive, with no pulse and not breathing.
To reach him, the two men had raced to a nearby Mullen Road residence in an ambulance, had commandeered a side-by-side UTV from a resident — “She gave us her side-by-side,” Serafin clarified — then drove into the woods, eventually leaving the UTV behind to travel the final few hundred yards on foot.
They were guided the entire way by Crawford County 911 staff members who were also on the phone with Miller and were able to pinpoint the precise locations of both Miller and the emergency responders via GPS — up until the moment Fenton and Serafin spotted the day-glo orange of Miller’s hat.
As Fenton and Serafin closed in on Miller, efforts were underway elsewhere to put the people and equipment in place to break a trail, transport Miller out of the woods and to a clearing where he could be flown to the hospital.
In the woods, having hustled about 250 yards from the UTV to Miller’s location, Miller’s heart may have been in arrest, but Fenton’s and Serafin’s were not.
“We were hoppin’,” Fenton recalled.
Even so, they quickly defibrillated Miller’s heart, which began beating on its own again within 30 seconds, Fenton said.
But even with Miller quickly breathing on his own again, he was not yet out of the woods: The task in front of them switched suddenly from a medical challenge to a logistical one. Miller needed hospital treatment, but there was no easy way to get him there.
“We need all the help we can get,” Fenton recalled telling Kurt Dennis , the Crawford County 911 dispatcher who had helped guide the responders to Miller.
“If it wasn’t for the 911 center being able to talk to him, talk to us,” Fenton said, “My feeling, they’re the true heroes. They were able to get us to him. They’re why he’s alive.”
There was plenty of credit to go around Friday as Miller and family members shook hands and shared stories with emergency services personnel.
“All of these agencies working together saved this patient’s life,” Deputy Fire Chief Evan Kardosh told the crowded conference room Friday, citing contributions made by crews from Meadville Central, Vernon Central Hose Co. , West Mead No. 1 and West Mead No. 2, Crawford County Public Safety Department , Pennsylvania State Police , Pennsylvania Game Commission and STAT MedEvac. “He was revived after being in cardiac arrest, was extricated from the woods, was transported to definitive care, and has since been released from the hospital. It is a fantastic example of the importance of advanced emergency medical care, the importance of manpower and mutual aid, the importance of our 911 technology, and the importance of well trained and certified crews.”
Kardosh and Miller, offering his thanks to the room full of first responders, presented certificates to each of the various agency members in recognition of their efforts, including a unit citation for the Meadville Central crew on duty at the time and individual CPR Cardiac Arrest awards for Fenton and Serafin, the men who revived Miller where he had collapsed deep in the woods.
After receiving both the certificate and a hug from Miller, Fenton contrasted the moment with the first time he met Miller, 20 days earlier.
“You look totally different standing on two feet,” he said, drawing laughter from his recent patient and the audience of first responders.
Better proof of the effectiveness of the local emergency response network than Miller’s presence at the ceremony would be hard to imagine: Just 9 percent of adults who experience cardiac arrest outside of hospitals survive to later be discharged from hospital treatment, according to the American Heart Association . Fenton, a paramedic for nearly 30 years, said that two such “saves” he had been involved in during the past six weeks were his first in perhaps 15 years or more.
And not only has Miller survived to be discharged from the hospital, he appears to be in good health.
“I feel like it never happened,” he said.
At least one thing has changed, however. “I think the hunting part of my life has ended,” Miller said.
The rescue that saved his life might not have happened without someone to lead EMTs to his location, but 911 dispatcher Kurt Dennis shook his head skeptically when told of Fenton lauding the performance of the 911 staff.
“The infrastructure the county has built over the last three to five years was the hero,” Dennis said. “The county has gone from being a follower to being a leader in the 911 industry, as far as technology and providing a high standard of service.”
The communications infrastructure even worked with Miller’s flip phone, but for him the “incident” revealed more about the people involved than the equipment.
“This was a genuine miracle,” he said. “These responders were incredible. They worked a genuine miracle that day. The community needs to know what a professional life-saving crew there is here in Meadville and the surrounding departments. All of them need to be recognized for what they did that day.”