GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - It was a flaw in a life-saving system that may have cost Linda Oosdyke's husband his life -- or that at least hurt his odds of surviving a cardiac arrest.
Now, a Target 8 investigation into Thomas Oosdyke's death is leading to major changes in how firefighters respond to cardiac arrests in Kent County.
"It gives me some comfort that because of what happened to him, something has changed and someone else will live," Linda Oosdyke said after learning about the changes.
A new policy approved by the Kent County Fire Chiefs' Association and endorsed by the county's two dispatch centers will make it easier for firefighters -- who are considered medical first responders -- to cross jurisdictional lines in cases of cardiac arrests, said Kent EMS Director Mic Gunderson.
Gunderson said he hopes to implement the changes in August.
"This is one of those cases where absolutely we have a life that is on the line," Gunderson said. "Seconds and minutes literally mean the difference between life and death in these cases, more so than any other case that an EMS system responds to."
Kent County has about 250 cardiac arrests a year.
"Your chances of survival drop off at about 10% for every passing minute," Gunderson said.
It was Linda Oosdyke's husband, Thomas, whose life was on the line on Jan. 2. She called 911 after he suffered a cardiac arrest.
As Target 8 reported earlier this year, help was on the way -- but not from where she expected.
Their home is in Plainfield Township, but only 75 yards from the Rockford city limit. Instead of sending a Rockford firefighter from a station 1.1 miles away, dispatchers followed protocol and sent Plainfield firefighters from more than 6 miles away.
"The difference between 1-and-a-half minutes and 9-and-a-half minutes, or whatever it was, is massive when it comes to someone's heartbeat," Linda Oosdyke said.
Thomas Oosdyke, 72, a retired machine worker and father of 5, died in his living room.
"Now we had a real case and a face to put on the issue, and I think that helped contribute to the political will of dealing with this problem sooner than later," Gunderson said.
The death and Target 8's report already led to one change -- ambulance companies sending the nearest ambulance to cardiac arrests, even if it means crossing into each other's territories.
Since that change, 45 of 145 possible cardiac arrest calls in Kent County have gotten quicker response because another ambulance was sent, Gunderson said.
But this change is even more critical because it focuses on rescuers who usually get there first -- firefighters -- often minutes ahead of ambulances.
The policy requires dispatchers to send out a special "cardiac arrest" tone on the radio.
"An auditory cue to get everyone's attention -- there's a cardiac arrest, pay attention, you may be closer to the call," Gunderson said.
Responding firefighters will be able to get on the radio and ask dispatchers if a neighboring fire truck is closer.
Or, if neighboring firefighters hear the call and believe they are closer, "they have permission to come on the radio frequency and let that be known," Gunderson said.
Plainfield Township Fire Chief Dave Peterson, whose firefighters answered that cardiac arrest call near Rockford, originally questioned whether change would ever happen. He said politics would make it difficult, especially when it came to spending local tax dollars in neighboring communities.
But he said he agrees with the change.
"I think it will make a difference," Peterson said. "Like anything, it's not going to be perfect. I don't know that you can make it perfect."
But Linda Oosdyke knows it will help.
"That's fantastic," she said. "It, of course, doesn't bring Tom back, but it's comforting in a way to know that someone else isn't going to go through what I went through."
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