William Fulton died last year. But his 16-year-old daughter’s quick thinking and the life-saving techniques of Wake County EMS brought him back to life.
“My heart stopped for 40 minutes last year and they didn’t give up on me,” said Fulton, 54.
Fulton will tell his story – and celebrate that he survived to tell it – as an honoree at the 9th Annual Code: Celebrate! 2015.
The event will begin at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 19, at the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium. It’s free, and we’re all invited.
Code: Celebrate! coincides with National EMS Week and is the largest celebration of Wake County Emergency Medical Services. It was created to publicly celebrate more lives saved since paramedics changed the way they handle cardiac arrest resuscitation.
There will be local entertainment. Our daughter, Teeghan, and her Enloe High School classmate, Ari Moore, are invited to perform. That’s how I found out about Code: Celebrate! But that’s not why I share this story.
I’m sharing it because, besides cancer, matters of an ailing heart are the leading cause of what kills my family. There’s my dad and his mom. And there’s Daddy’s daddy and Mama’s daddy, too.
So, like many of you, it’s important that I listen, query and learn how to live healthier.
Code: Celebrate! will remind us all to learn CPR so we can put aside any fear we have and step up to help those who can’t help themselves.
That’s what EMS has done.
In the mid-2000s, Wake County EMS changed in two major ways how its paramedics respond to cardiac arrests in the field.
The result: “We have a bunch of people walking out of the hospital. Now, people are surviving cardiac arrest,” said Jeffrey Hammerstein, a certified paramedic who oversees community outreach and public information.
So we’re clear, cardiac arrests and heart attacks aren’t the same. A cardiac arrest is when the heart either stops, or doesn’t beat effectively. Without quick intervention, “the person will not survive, period,” Hammerstein said.
Heart attacks – when heart cells aren’t getting needed oxygen or blood due to blockage in coronary arteries – can cause cardiac arrest, if severe. But not all heart attacks lead to cardiac arrest.
As part of the changes in Wake EMS protocol, chest compressions must be constant and uninterrupted.
“We’ve found a focus on hard, fast, constant chest compressions dramatically increases the number of people we get a pulse back on,” Hammerstein said. “Interruptions knock out the chance for survival.”
Paramedics also implement induced hypothermia – intentionally cooling the patient’s body temperature – to decrease potential brain damage and increase chances the brain will heal.
The result: In 2006, 49 EMS patients survived cardiac arrest outside the hospital and fared well neurologically, Hammerstein said. Before, he said, “it was in the low 20s or teens.”
Wake County pioneered the body-cooling protocol, Hammerstein said, noting at least two other EMS systems in the nation use it now, too.
Fulton is a husband and father of five who teaches high school math at Governor Morehead School in Raleigh. He’s also the grandfather of two who spends his spare time as a tutor and minister and builds kingdom halls as a Jehovah’s Witness.
As he climbed into bed on March 26, 2014, he called out his wife’s name and fell over, unresponsive.
Police were first to respond to his family’s 911 call. As his wife and 19-year-old son stood near, his daughter, Savannah, who’d taken a class in CPR, urged the police officers to begin chest compressions while they awaited paramedics.
They did. Paramedics took over the chest compressions and cooled Fulton’s body.
“It definitely made a difference,” Fulton said.
Fulton, who now has a defibrillator, believes he lost memory of four weeks. He will never forget, though, the efforts to bring him back to life, or the people who got a chance to show him how much they love him.
“This has been a very surreal experience,” he said.