Cardiac arrest patients meet lifesaving paramedics

Kent County

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — More than two dozen people who were brought back to life after suffering cardiac arrest broke bread with those credited with saving their lives during Life EMS’ second annual lifesaver luncheon Tuesday.

If it wasn’t for the first-rate emergency medical response system in West Michigan, they may not have been able to tell their stories.

The 25 survivors have one thing in common: they were all living their lives in one moment and the next, the lights went out.

“(I) was walking to my car and fell down face-first,” Bryant VanOverloop, a father of four whose heart stopped in April 2018, said. “This is all hearsay, because I don’t remember anything.”

First responders administered six shocks from an automated electronic defibrillator and continued CPR until Life EMS paramedic David White and EMT Rebecca Knepper arrived.

“It was a miracle by God,” VanOverloop said. “And I’m thankful every day that I have after it happened.”

On Tuesday, Life EMS Ambulance hosted its second annual Heart Savers Luncheon. Part of National Heart Month, the luncheon is a way to recognize and honor paramedics and EMTs who played a pivotal role in a cardiac arrest save in 2018, reuniting them with local men and women whom they revived.

Life EMS says 47 of its medics helped save the lives of 25 patients in the Grand Rapids area who went into full cardiac arrest in the last year. Patients ranged in age from 21 to 84 and the crises happened in a variety of locations, from movie theaters to soccer fields, at home and in traffic. 

National standards for a cardiac arrest save are defined as any lifesaving intervention that results in a successful hospital discharge with a good neurological outcome. 

First responders, local firefighters and police officers trained in CPR and basic first aid were also part of the lifesaving effort. For the first two months of 2019, 41 percent of patients treated initially by Grand Rapids firefighters made it to the hospital alive.     

If you ask most medics, they’ll tell you the job is full of high and lows. It’s gratifying when they make a save but heartbreaking when they lose someone.   

“Whenever we transport someone who has a heart still beating, they’re breathing on their own … all of them in my mind have stood out,” said paramedic David White, who helped to save VanOverloop.

That was the case that day in April. As VanOverloop lay clinically dead, his wife arrived. Both White and fellow paramedic Rebecca Knepper kept their professional wits about them. Then Knepper learned the couple had four little girls at home.

“It just gives out that extra bit of prayer strength, where you send up that extra little bit, like, ‘He’s got four girls. God, please help them make it,” Knepper said.

“I want him to be able to walk his girls down the aisle when they get married,” White added.

By the time they reached Zeeland Hospital’s emergency room doors, VanOverloop’s heart was beating again. His life was saved.

VanOverloop says his reaction to seeing an ambulance or first responder going down the road has forever changed.   

“Wow! Those people make a huge difference and they’re part of the reason I’m still alive,” he said.

West Michigan has a two-tiered system for emergency medical response. First responders who are mostly from local fire departments and trained in CPR and other lifesaving efforts are followed by private ambulance services that provide more advanced lifesaving measures.

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