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Heenan family grateful for ‘life savers’

By Staff | May 27, 2008

Faribault County Sheriff Mike Gormley sets up a defibrillator to show how it is used.

Making arrests and doing investigations. Sometimes it’s responding to a fight, a domestic dispute, a robbery, or even a murder. Other times the job involves doing a lot of tedious and dull paperwork.

But, if there’s one thing law enforcement officers learn through experience and years on the job — is a variation of Murphy’s Law — expect the unexpected.

On a Friday morning, May 16, Faribault County Sheriff Mike Gormley, deputies Scott Adams and Barry Meyers, and animal control officer Todd Heenan were northbound on Highway 169, heading to Wells to investigate a case.

Their vehicle was at the stoplights near the high school when a call came over on their mobile radio: someone on Interstate 90 needed medical attention.

Janice and Dennis Heenan and another couple were on their way to Owatonna to look at a golf cart Dennis was interested in buying.

“We were just visiting. Talking about all the things our friend’s truck has. There’s something that tells you if the tires need air. We all laughed about it,” says Janice. “Then, bang! Over he went.”

Her husband had just suffered a cardiac arrest.

It just so happens the pickup truck also was equipped with OnStar — to provide roadside and emergency assistance. Their friends dialed 911 for help.

“I started to shake him and checked his pulse,” says Janice.

By now, Gormley and his men had turned onto the freeway and were heading east, to where Todd’s dad was located.

It was just a matter of minutes, says Janice, before help arrived.

“We didn’t even get a chance to get out of our truck,” she says. “Todd pulled his dad out right away.”

It didn’t take long to determine that if Dennis didn’t receive ‘lifesaving” medical attention immediately, he was not going to survive.

“I determined dad had no pulse, so we pulled him to the side of the road near the ditch,” Todd explains.

At this point, details of what occurred next are sketchy. Todd just remembers being told to be with his mother while the others tried to save his dad.

Some officers administered CPR and eventually a defibrillator had to be hooked up to Dennis.

“They had to shock him more than once, several times,” says Todd. “They saved his life and brought him back.

EMT personnel of the Blue Earth Ambulance arrived shortly on the scene and Blue Earth Police Chief Dean Vereide also responded to the call and provided an oxygen tank.

“They all were helpful and wonderful. They responded very, very quickly. They were all marvelous and great,” says Janice.

All of the sheriff department’s vehicles have a defibrillator, says Gormley, and other items in case of an emergency.

Todd and his mother are convinced the split-second decisions and know-how of the officers and the defibrillator are what saved Dennis.

“It (the defibrillator) did the trick. They got his heart going again. And, I’m grateful for that,” says Janice.

Gormley says he and the others “were just in the right place, at the right time,” and they didn’t do anything special.

“We’re not looking for any glory. We’re just grateful he’s alive,” says Gormley.

“He’s the first person I’ve ever saved. Knowing the person changes things,” says Adams, adding that officers had a CPR refresher course in March.

The 69-year-old Heenan was transported to United Hospital in Blue Earth and later airlifted by Mayo One helicopter to St. Marys Hospital in Rochester.

“He’s holding his own for now. He has no memory of anything that happened,” says Janice.

When the Register went to press on Friday, he was listed in critical condition.

“I can’t say thank you enough. A lot of times officers don’t get enough credit,” says Todd. “These guys have gotten the training and can save lives. They saved my dad.”

Ironically, officers who enforce the law often are subjected to and have no control over Murphy’s Law.

Thank God, they train themselves to live by the Boy Scouts motto: be prepared.