December 3, 2014
By Audrey Fraizer
Thirty-eight years in the profession, and Ronnie Robertson can count on one hand the number of times a caller has come by to say anything.
“It doesn’t happen,” said Robertson, director of Davie County’s (N.C.) E911 Communications Center. “Most times, we’re the unseen service. But that’s OK. There are other reasons that we do this job.”
That might be for most people, but for Terry Lewis, treating EMS to breakfast was the least he could do to acknowledge their contribution in saving his life.
“That was such a small token of our appreciation, ” Lewis said. “It was so humbling and gratifying for me to meet them.”
Lewis, 57, experienced a cardiac event during his sleep the night after he returned from a three-day, 36-mile hike on the Appalachian Trail. Despite having a tough time of it on the final three-mile, 1,300-foot ascent, he went home feeling good.
His wife, Lesa, awoke shortly after midnight on April 21 (2014) to discover an unusual sound to her husband’s breathing. She couldn’t wake him, prompting a call to 9-1-1. After following the instructions provided by EMD Stephanie Speer, Lesa did something she had never done before during the scariest moments of her life.
“We started CPR,” Speer said. “Lesa was amazingly calm and did exactly what I told her to do.”
Lewis coded once at home and the Davie County EMS team that arrived spent 19 minutes resuscitating him before determining his condition was stable for transport to the hospital. He doesn’t remember much about the emergency, except for Lesa’s incessant plea “to stay with me, Terry.”
Lewis didn’t understand.
“I did not know what she was talking about and could only respond, ‘I can’t wake up,’” he said. “The next thing I know, I am looking up at this stranger in my bedroom, asking me lots of questions.”
Lewis coded four more times and a cardiac catheterization subsequently performed in the ER revealed a 70 to 90 percent blockage in five coronary arteries.
On the following day, April 22, Lewis was in surgery for a quintuple bypass.
Ten hours after surgery, he was up and walking around the nurses’ station. Three days later, a pacemaker defibrillator was added to help monitor his heart’s rhythm going forward.
“The Almighty God had a plan, and everyone in that chain was part of that plan,” said Lewis, a devoted member of his Calvary Baptist Church. “It was by the grace of God that I did not die while pushing up that mountain, and it’s through the good Lord’s love and mercy that Lesa woke up and let her know something was going on with me.”
By June, Lewis was strong enough to contact Davie County EMS Director Mark Hancock for permission to directly thank everyone in the chain of the response he credits with saving his life. Hancock arranged the visit to include staff from the ambulance station and communication center.
Speer was off the day Lewis came by. Undeterred, Lewis stopped by a second time to personally extend his gratitude, giving Speer and the three other dispatchers on duty that night special EMS Bibles. He also gifted guardian angel pocket coins to the entire EMS and 9-1-1 teams.
“He was super nice,” said Speer, who has been in dispatch going on six years. “But the guardian angel isn’t me. It’s his wife, Lesa.”
Lewis has every intention of hiking every inch of the 2,180-mile Appalachian Trail. But it has to be with Lesa’s blessing.
“I was thinking of returning in September (2014), but will probably wait until next year because of what Lesa went through and her fear of my going back to the mountains,” he said.
In the meantime, Speer looks forward to meeting Lesa, who has extended heartfelt gratitude to Speer in a letter that also expresses her faith in God’s “grace and mercy in helping all of us so that Terry is still with us.”
Speer anticipates a friendship that’s here to stay.
“It will be a very good lifelong relationship,” she said.