On Feb. 14, 2011, the lives of Jeff and Erica Buchanan changed forever.
Jeff’s heart stopped beating. He was dead, without a natural heartbeat for about 90 minutes. Friday morning, three years later, they went to the Edmond Fire Department’s Fire Station No. 1 to say thank you to Wes Skelly, Kyle Shelton, Chad George and Brian Olea, the personnel who saved Jeff’s life, and to share their story.
It happened at about 8:50 p.m. on a Monday, a traditional pizza day for the hectic Buchanan family schedule. Jeff came in while Erica was working and they began to talk about what their day was like. Jeff went to their bedroom with his laptop to finish some artwork.
That didn’t last long. Erica started hearing a lot of good natured rough housing with their kids coming from the bedroom. After tucking the kids into bed and cleaning up the kitchen, Erica sat down to watch one of her favorite shows.
Her time on the sofa was cut short when she heard one word she will never forget — “Babe!”
Immediately, she could tell something was wrong. She went into their bedroom where she saw her husband lying on his side and propped up on his arm. His lips were blue and he looked like he was convulsing.
“I was terrified when I grabbed the phone to dial 911,” Erica stated on a website that tells their story. “I was screaming at Jeff to tell me what was wrong. He didn’t answer. His eyes shut and he fell face down on the bed.”
Due to the pace of events, what happened afterward is somewhat of a blur for Erica. After talking to the dispatcher, she had to get a 225-pound man onto the floor.
Erica put the phone down and tried to move Jeff. When she turned him over on his back, she saw that his face was bluer than it was before and he was gasping for air intermittently.
Their oldest two daughters were standing in the bedroom doorway and Erica told her 10-year-old, Emily, to go get their neighbor Casey. Somehow, Erica mustered enough strength and pulled Jeff onto the floor.
After she picked up the phone again, the 911 operator asked her when Jeff was taking breaths. She knelt over her husband and every time he would gasp for air she would yell “Now!” to the operator.
From then on, Erica remembers bits and pieces about what happened. She remembers first responders, including Edmond Fire Department personnel, arriving. Understandably hysterical, she was escorted out of the room. She sat in the living room with the neighbor’s wife. She remembers saying over and over “Please don’t take him. Please don’t let him die. Please!”
When Jeff was loaded into the ambulance, Erica was crying. She managed to hug her daughters and tell them everything was going to be all right. She was driven to the Oklahoma Heart Hospital in Oklahoma City, where they arrived before the ambulance.
Erica sat and waited. Family members and friends trickled in. Her stress level increased when the doctor told her the situation didn’t look good. Jeff still didn’t have a heartbeat. She was told had he not been 39 years old they would have stopped trying to resuscitate him. A lack of oxygen to his brain was another concern.
Erica’s close friend Allyson said “No! We won’t accept this!” and started praying. Others with her began praying, asking God for a miracle.
Thirty minutes later, Erica received some good news — Jeff had a heartbeat. He was transferred to critical care where his body was cooled in an effort to prevent further damage to his brain.
More struggles followed. The next day, Jeff’s potassium level was critically low and his kidneys and liver may have suffered irreparable damage. His kidneys shut down. He coded and then was stabilized. Doctors did not anticipate a recovery.
On Feb. 16, 2011, medical attention — and prayers — continued. After Jeff’s temperature returned to 98.6, a nurse told Erica she could talk to her husband. Jeff responded to her voice and tried to open his eyes.
On Feb. 17, 2011, test results showed Jeff had no brain damage. He was able to draw a dot and was making a hand motion as he asked for music. He listened to the first two songs from Hillsong’s “Beautiful Exchange.” As they played, his blood pressure leveled out.
The next day, Jeff began breathing on his own. The day after that he got out of bed into a recliner.
Three days later, Jeff walked with a walker. In antoher three days, he walked without it. Before the end of that month, he no longer required dialysis.
On March 2, 2011, Jeff was released from the hospital.
‘HE’S A WALKING MIRACLE’
Friday morning, at Fire Station No. 1, the Edmond firefighters talked about the call. Skelly, a lieutenant with 11 years service in the city, said when a cardiac call comes in, it’s a very critical situation. Skelly supplied oxygen and assisted with chest compressions. The foursome worked over Jeff about 26 minutes.
“It’s just the drive to help people,” Skelly said. “That’s what we’re here to do.”
Shelton, a firefighter-paramedic, said he remembers parts of the call — the family, finding Jeff near the bed and moving him, knowing the bleakness of the situation. A week later he learned the patient had survived.
“He’s a walking miracle,” Shelton said, echoing Skelly’s words.
George, a firefighter-paramedic, said knowing the patient’s age and that he was in full cardiac arrest was sobering. As part of their makeup, the personnel plan ahead of time what they will be doing when they arrive at the scene. Firefighters often don’t know the outcome of calls, so hearing the patient survived was rewarding, George said.
“We work real well as a team,” he said. “We have been together for quite a while. Everybody knew their role going in.”
Olea, a firefighter, said it was a tough call, hearing somebody’s in distress. His outcome was a good end to the story, Olea said. Olea assisted the paramedics as best he could, doing chest compressions, helping prepare drugs.
‘WE WILL NOT BE MOVING’
The Buchanans live in Edmond. Jeff, who doesn’t recall what happened on Feb. 14, 2011, and the next few days that followed, said it is a blessing to live in a community with such a quality fire department.
“If I had been anywhere else, the story probably would have ended differently,” he said. “Just knowing they are here and have our backs, and everybody else’s backs, is a good feeling.”
Erica said living here gives them peace of mind.
“We will not be moving,” she said.
Each Valentine’s Day, the couple visits the Oklahoma Heart Hospital to remember, to dine and to thank hospital staff. Each visit and each day are special for Erica and Jeff, who said he got a second chance thanks to the Edmond firefighters, the other medics and hospital staff.
In 2013, the Edmond Fire Department responded to 65 cardiac arrest calls. The agency has one of the highest cardiac save rates in the fire service, and is working to increase it. Brian Davis is the Fire Department’s emergency medical service director.
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