Lifesavers Recognized

Gordy Overturf is lucky to be alive, and his appreciation for those responsible for that fact is being shown in a big way.

On Monday, Overturf visited ALSTAR EMS’ Starflight hangar to meet with and personally thank several of the individuals who kept him alive during a medical emergency during which he went into cardiac arrest on the evening of Jan. 27. Joined by his wife, Chris, and stepdaughter, Felicia Keeler, Overturf overtly displayed his gratitude and a curiosity over the people, equipment and procedures that revived him from his cardiac arrest and sustained him through to a functional recovery.

“It’s just an amazing tour of events,” Gordy Overturf said. “I never thought I would be here doing this, but they deserve to be recognized because they saved my life; there’s no doubt about that. I know a lot of them get paid to do this kind of thing because it’s their job, but it amazes me how much pride they take in those jobs. It’s not just a paycheck for them.”

“If it wasn’t for them, (Gordy) wouldn’t be here. We owe them,” Chris Overturf said. “They each personally had a hand in our lives, and I just wanted to meet the people who saved him.”

All in all, Overturf’s medical emergency was handled in approximately two-and-a-half hours from the time first responders were dispatched to his admission to the catheterization lab at Erie’s Hamot Medical Center. According to Debbie Weaver, chief flight nurse, Overturf’s case is described as a classic “tiered response” from various levels and agencies of medical personnel.

Weaver said Lakewood Volunteer Fire Department was dispatched to Overturf’s home in Lakewood at 10:40 p.m. on Jan. 27. She said the family had called 911 because Overturf had experienced chest pains for approximately 40 minutes at that point.

Through a cellphone app called “IamResponding,” Lakewood Fire Chief Kurt Hallburg was able to see which members of his staff were responding to the call and that only basic life support equipment was being taken to the scene. Based on the dispatch information, Hallburg then determined that advanced life support would be required and so ALSTAR EMS-Medic 10 were simultaneously dispatched to the scene.

The two agencies were going to meet on Fairmount Avenue to implement the advanced life support equipment, but Overturf went into cardiac arrest before the rendezvous, at which point CPR was administered. When ALSTAR EMS-Medic 10 arrived, ALSTAR fly-car paramedic Dan Loewenheim used a mobile defibrillation unit to restart Overturf’s heart at 10:54 p.m. The units arrived at WCA Hospital at 10:57 p.m., where Overturf was intubated to keep him breathing and stabilized. Overturf was then transported by ambulance to Starflight’s helipad and was then transported to Hamot at 12:52 a.m. – a trip that typically takes 15-20 minutes.

Weaver said Overturf’s recognition of those who responded to his crisis is an anomaly, let alone the fact that he made his appreciation public.

“This is just as exciting for us as it is for (Gordy) because rarely do people come back to thank us,” she said.

Despite being two weeks removed from the incident, Overturf, who works as a mechanic, has been able to return to work in a limited capacity – which he said mostly consists of answering phones. For the next three months, he will wear a vest that includes technology capable of monitoring the condition of his heart and, if necessary, can act as a mobile defibrillator should anomalies begin to reoccur. Eventually, he will undergo surgery to receive an implantable device similar to a pacemaker, which will restart his heart should it suddenly stop.

Due in large part to Overturf’s receptivity, and the fact that his case is considered a “classic tiered response,” Weaver will present the incident at an International Association of Fire Chiefs conference in Syracuse during the month of June.

“I’ll do an hour-and-a-half presentation on this case, and all it’s different components,” Weaver said. “We’re no different than any other ambulance crew around the country. This is why we do what we do.”