Frost resident Tom Lamont will observe his second birthday on July 11, 2010 thanks to the quick responses of his wife, Sheryl, and the Frost Ambulance EMTs.
On that date in 2009, the then 62-year old Lamont had spent the morning catching up on chores around his home. Employed at Darling International in Blue Earth during the week, this pleasant July morning was perfect for getting his mowing done. In fact, he had even done some push mowing.
Feeling well and enjoying the beautiful summer day, he had no inkling of what was about to happen. It would change his life forever.
“I remember I had grilled us some burgers and had been whining to Tom about going swimming with me and the grandchildren at the Bricelyn pool,” says Sheryl. “At first, he wasn’t going to go, but then he changed his mind.”
Sheryl says she told her three grandchildren to get their suits on while she finished doing the dishes. Then she got suited-up as well.
Meanwhile, waiting for everyone to get ready, Tom sat on the love seat.
“While I was in the kitchen, I heard gasping, snoring, loud respiration sounds similar to what our dog makes when it’s sleeping,” says Sheryl. “So I went to check things out and found Tom lying on the love seat.”
At first, when Tom didn’t respond to her, Sheryl says she thought he was just kidding her, trying to get out of the swimming trip. Then, looking at him more closely, she knew something more serious was happening to her husband.
“Tom was lying on the love seat,” she recalls. “His eyes were fixed. He was non-responsive and yellowish in color. I knew we were in trouble!”
An LPN, Sheryl thought Tom was having a mini-stroke, a stroke or a seizure.
“I started yelling at him,” recalls Sheryl, “don’t you leave me!”
She then called ‘911.’
When Pam and Randy (Benji) Anderson, Frost Ambulance EMTs, heard the call was for a 62-year old male who was seizuring, Pam says she knew instantly who it was upon hearing the address. They quickly jumped in their vehicle and made the five to six mile trip to Frost in record time.
“All Frost Ambulance EMTs generally show up when there is a call,” says Pam. “Everybody helps out. Once at a call, we can evaluate how much help is needed.”
Sometimes, as in the case of Sheryl, Pam ends up driving family members to the hospital ER…often tailgating the ambulance the entire way.Meanwhile, knowing help was on the way, and Tom was still breathing, she says she dashed out to her deck to see if there was anyone nearby who could help her before the ambulance would arrive.
“There was a little guy walking his dog,” remembers Sheryl. “I yelled at him and asked if he knew CPR. He just looked at me and hurried along. I have no idea who he was, but I’m sure I scared him.”
Sheryl then returned to the house, looked at Tom once again, then called ‘911’ for the second time.
“I told them to put a step on it,” she says. “I also told them I was going to start giving him CPR.”
It was at this point, she pulled her husband off the love seat to the floor and began CPR.
Still unresponsive, Tom turned a plum color as she was performing CPR on him. At this same time, the three grandchildren stepped into the room and saw her working on their grandfather.
Although only a few minutes had elapsed after her calls for help, Sheryl says it seemed like hours before she heard what sounded like a diesel engine arrive.
According to records, the Frost Ambulance was dispatched at 1:51 p.m.
Doug Besendorf and Heather Anderson, Frost Ambulance EMTs were the first on the scene and came running into the house at 1:56 p.m. A mere five minutes after receiving the call.
“By the time Doug and I arrived, the grandchildren were standing outside and Sheryl was doing CPR on a purple Tom,” recalls Heather. “It saved us time and probably Tom’s life, when Sheryl stated, during her second call, she was going to do CPR. This information told us it was not a seizure and we probably would need to use the defibrillator.”
Heather knew two minutes of CPR are needed before you shock or do a ‘heart start’ with a defibrillator. Sheryl had performed this and basically primed Tom’s heart for the procedure.
“It was the best scenario to walk into,” recalls Heather.
Pam and Benji Anderson then arrived at the scene.
“Sheryl was yelling at the ambulance crew to ‘get that gurney in here now!'” recalls Pam. “I told her sometimes we have to work on people for awhile before we can do that.”
The Frost EMTs then took control of the emergency situation.
“I was good until they pulled me off from Tom and got me out of there,” says Sheryl. “Then I lost it.”
“Before using the defibrillator, I wanted Sheryl to be totally off Tom and the couch away from them so no one would be zapped by the electrical shock,” recalls Heather.
Heather says she kicked the love seat aside, then ripped Tom’s shirt off before hooking the defibrillator to him.
Letting the machine talk and guide her through the process, Heather applied the paddles to Tom’s chest and shocked him once.
“Within the first five minutes,” says Sheryl, “Heather had Tom’s heart stopped and restarted by using the defibrillator. Then Benji continued the compressions on Tom.”
Tom was then back-boarded and loaded into the ambulance by the Frost EMTs. He had a pulse when they left the house and was breathing on his own and moaning while en route to Blue Earth’s United Hospital District.
But Sheryl was frightened and says when they hauled her husband out the door she didn’t think he would ever return.
Benji and the other EMTs were more optimistic.
“Tom was talking while in the ambulance, but it didn’t make sense,” says Benji who was riding with Jake and Heather Anderson as driver Doug Besendorf sped to Blue Earth.
Frost records say the ambulance crew arrived at the hospital at 2:12 p.m. From dispatch to delivery, a mere 21 minutes of time had elapsed.
The adrenaline rush felt by everyone involved was over. They had ‘cheated death’ and Tom would live to see another birthday.
Once in ER, the hospital staff immediately did an EKG and stabilized Tom before arranging an air vac to St. Mary’s in Rochester for him.
“Tom was probably in Rochester a little over an hour after the first call went out,” recalls Sheryl.
“The doctors in Rochester were so impressed by the ambulance crew and their response time,” says Sheryl. “They told us timing was everything. It had saved Tom’s life.”
When an angiogram was performed at Rochester, doctors discovered there was no muscle damage done to Tom’s heart. However, his heart was like a bowl of jiggling jello. It had to be put back into a normal rhythmic pattern. The defibrillator had temporarily performed this.
During his 10-day stay in Rochester, Tom underwent double by-pass surgery and had an ICD or internal cardiac defibrillator inserted into his chest. This device monitors the electrical part of his heart, keeping it in a proper rhythmic pattern.
Every three months Tom has the ICD checked. He also was told to walk about one hour five days per week and not to eat much red meat. Even though he is still sometimes out-of-breath, doctors told him it would take at least a year before he would be back to feeling his normal self.
Prior to July 11, Tom had his left carotid artery opened in March 2008 due to high triglycerides and has been diabetic for years. Otherwise, he has had no other health issues related to his heart.
Looking back on the day, Tom has no recollection of the incident, of his ambulance ride or of the air vac. All he remembers is sitting on the love seat in his home and the next thing he recalls is seeing his brother, David, and other family members at his hospital bedside.
“Just in seconds your life can change,” says a still disbelieving Sheryl of the day’s events. “From feeling helpless in a seemingly empty town, in just a few minutes my yard was full of people.”
Another recollection Sheryl has of the day are the sounds in her home.
“It sounded like a basketball game,” she says. “Everyone was cheering us on and saying, ‘Come on Tommy! Come on Tommy!'”
Tom and Sheryl are glad Frost has an ambulance and EMT service.
“Faribault County is rare because of the number of ambulances it has,” says Pam Anderson. “There are seven ambulance services and three first responder units in this county.”
Being an EMT is a real commitment. In addition to a total of 110 hours of initial training, a clinical is also required. To maintain certification, a 24-hour refresher course is required every two years and monthly meetings also are conducted. At some of these meetings, mandatory training sessions are implemented dealing with subjects such as blood-borne pathogens, defibrillator usage and drug variance, to name but a few.
The Minnesota Regulatory Board also keeps an eye on the response times of ambulance services. The Frost ambulance service has been recognized in the past for its outstanding response times. Their service area covers about 90 sections in Rome Township, 80 percent of Emerald Township, 25 percent of Barber Township and 20 percent of Brush Creek Township.
“Dr. Lewis Hanson was very instrumental in starting up the service,” say Pam and Benji who have been EMTs since 1994 and 1992 respectively.
Like all small towns, Frost is currently short on day help. They are looking for more interested volunteers.
Frost is also in need of a new ambulance.
“We currently have a 1993 model,” says Benji. “It’s coming up on time to replace it. Since it is city owned, we will try to get grants and do fund raisers to replace it, but Frost will have to “dig up” most of the funds.”
That is quite a task, since Frost currently has a population of 253. But the people of the community know, especially the Lamonts, the importance of the ambulance service and its EMTs.
On Christmas day, the unit ran its 30th call for the year…helping people they know…just like the Lamonts.
As Sheryl looks back on that fateful day, she advises everyone to learn CPR. It can make the difference between life or death.
“I’m just glad to be married to a nurse,” jokes Tom as he hears the story once again of his near-death experience.
Looking at her husband with a smile, Sheryl says, “you owe me a CPR.”