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Laconia: Best place in NH to have a heart attack?

New Hampshire Union Leader

July 31. 2011 12:21AM
John Davis of Bristol, left came to Laconia Fire Station to give thanks to them for saving his life during a heart attack last Thanksgiving. Shaking his hand is Sean Riley, deputy chief of emergency medical services for the department which has a meaningful recovery rate about four times the national average for cardiac emergency patients. (PAULA TRACY / UNION LEADER)

LACONIA - If John Davis of Bristol could choose a place to have a heart attack, it might well be Laconia.

Davis, who was haying the fields at the former Laconia State School last Thanksgiving Day, went into full cardiac arrest during the project.

On Thursday, he walked up the three flights of stairs to the Laconia Fire Department to thank the team for getting him back on the tractor.

'They saved my life, and it was done by the book,' said Davis. 'I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for them. Simple as that.'

Dr. Paul Racicot said the recovery rate for heart attack victims helped by the Fire Department is about four times the national average. Nationwide, the average is 6.4 percent, according to the American Heart Association.

In the past 2 1/2 years, the department has been studying its response to cardiac arrest cases. The recovery rate - meaning patients can walk out of the hospital and into their old life - is 24 percent.

'Survival rates are pretty remarkable, especially for a rural area,' said Racicot, who has worked in the emergency room at Lakes Region General Hospital for 25 years.

Seattle has the nation's highest recovery rate, at 40 percent.

Response times are key

Sean Riley, deputy chief of emergency medical services for the Laconia department, credits several factors for the strong showing the department has had in helping people recover from a near-death experience.

The public's knowledge of CPR, a three-minute average response time, trained paramedics on staff who can administer drugs, and a close working relationship with Lakes Region General Hospital are all factors, said Riley. Others include state grants for Automatic External Defibrillators in public places and new protocols for CPR that focus on compressions of the chest rather than dealing with respiration.

Both Racicot and Riley said the willingness of bystanders to begin cardiac compressions makes a huge difference. Racicot said it is now 'goof proof.'

'The push-hard, push-fast campaign has been working,' said Riley, referring to the new media campaign and advisory by the AHA to focus on chest compressions rather than interrupting it to do respiration. The old days of 15 compressions to two respirations are gone.

Davis' son Noel, who was with him haying in the field, started CPR within a minute of his father's heart attack on the tractor.

He did the 30 compressions to two respiration breaths.

'His color was so bad, I thought 30 was better than 15 with breaths,' he said.

A 911 call, which coincidentally was received across the street at the state's E-911 dispatch center, went out, and the response time was three minutes from Laconia Central Station.

The Davises were far across the field, and the ambulance became stuck up to its axles in the field, said Fire Chief Kenneth Erickson.

Fortunately, another crew and ambulance were at Central Station and dispatched to the edge of the field.

The response team grabbed the gear off the ambulance and ran. A second ambulance crew at the Central Station was dispatched. Soon, all eight firefighter/EMT/paramedics were in the field.

On the third shock of a defibrillator, Davis' heart began to beat on its own.

Rescuers had restored breathing, and the crew was out of the field and en route to LRGH within 13 minutes of the call.

Erickson said a crucial element of a rescue is having paramedics administer drugs that get the heart going again.

Instead of paying taxes, the hospital funds $800,000 a year in Fire Department expenses, including EMS training.

With his wife, Ramona, and one of their sons, Noel, at his side, Davis let firefighters know what they did made a difference to him and his family.

Davis said he had never been sick a day in his life, until being stricken. He has fully recovered, he said, and is back to cutting the same fields.

'To be back out there farming, you can't get a better success story than that,' said Sean Riley, deputy chief of emergency medical services for the department.

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