Audrey Fraizer

Audrey Fraizer

Story Vault

By Audrey Fraizer

They met on a dance floor 41 years ago and never let go, not through his career on the railroad keeping them apart days at a time or, lately, her medical problems convincing them to move from their home to seek treatment a state away.

“She’s been wonderful to me,” said Gary Fisher, 65, and a long-time resident of Fort Wayne, Ind. “She’s gotten me through a lot of things. Now it’s my turn to help her.”

Sara Fisher, also 65, has cancer of one lung and for the past year has endured chemotherapy following major surgery to remove the tumors. She was recovering at home when the inconceivable happened.

“She went into the kitchen to get a soda,” he said. “The next thing I hear is a thump.”

Gary rushed to the room, finding Sara slumped over a chair. She wasn’t conscious. She wasn’t breathing. He laid his wife on the floor and called 9-1-1. For the next four minutes he became master of something he had never done before under the direction of EMD Melissa Smith.

Without Smith, Gary doesn’t want to think about what could have happened.

“No doubt about it, the CPR saved her life,” he said. “Her doctor said it was a miracle. My wife is one in a million.”

Smith, a dispatcher for TRAA in Fort Wayne, said Gary sounded distressed, and understandably so. He had difficulty explaining the situation, pleading for an ambulance to save the life of his beloved companion.

Smith asked if he had ever provided CPR. He said “no.” Well, she told him, let’s get started.

“He did exactly what I told him,” Smith said.

Gary pushed harder when instructed and opened the door for the arrival of emergency crews. He acknowledges Smith for her “fantastic” patience and compassion, although at the time all he could do was think about saving Sara.

Fire department first responders/EMTs arrived six minutes into the call, about three minutes ahead of the Three Rivers Ambulance Authority (TRAA) paramedic unit. Paramedics shocked her four times before transport to the hospital as part of a sequence of events Gary calls his five-hour nightmare on the evening of Sept. 5, 2010.

Probably the toughest part was the 15 minutes EMS worked on her at their home, Gary said. She was intubated at the scene and therapeutic hypotherma was initiated using ice packs and cold fluids to decrease her core body temperature. Her initial assessment wasn’t good. A cardiologist at the hospital told Gary she wouldn’t likely pull through.

Although survival rates for out-of-hospital cardiac arrest differ, the national average hovers around 14% depending on the emergency treatment system available. While bystander CPR performed correctly (e.g., using Pre-Arrival Instructions (PAIs) from a trained EMD) has been shown to increase survival rate, statistics show that it’s applied in than 30% of out-of-hospital arrests.

But Gary held on, despite the prognosis.

“After 41 years, I wasn’t ready to let her go,” he said.

The next day, a Monday, Sara opened her eyes but only for a moment. Gary said she squeezed his hand and whispered, “don’t leave me.” He told her he was there forever. By Tuesday, she was able to talk. Sara couldn’t remember anything from Sunday, the evening of a cardiac arrest they later learned was due to low potassium levels associated with the cancer treatments.

In 11 days, she was sent home from the hospital wearing a defibrillator. A check-up in November confirmed their hope. Her heart was performing “extremely well,” Gary said, and by January she could be shedding the medical vest.

Sara and Gary celebrated her 65th birthday in November. After the holidays, they planned a temporary move to the Chicago area for further cancer treatments. He expects to be back home in a year or less. Sara, he said, would be there, too, able to continue the ordinary events Gary will never again take for granted.

“She makes it all worthwhile,” he said. “There was someone bigger than you and me watching out for her.”

Smith is grateful for the help she was able to give but credits Gary for his ability and willingness to follow the Pre-Arrival Instructions.

“She made it through and I feel great about that,” said Smith, an advanced EMT for the same ambulance service for 10 years before transferring to the communications center in 2008. “We give instructions and try to assess what’s going on but the process is only as good as the person performing the CPR.”

TRAA responds to approximately 34,000 calls for service per year. They responded to 232 cardiac arrest calls in 2010 (through November), with a 36.2% success rate for pulse return.

TRAA is also a founding member and supporter of the Three Rivers CPR Task Force and the annual Don’t Miss a Beat CPR campaign. The Don’t Miss a Beat program is a community-wide effort to provide free mass training of hands-only CPR to the public multiple times during the year.