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GUEST OPINION: Thanks for the save, everyone

  • Photographer John Burgess, center, met his heroes in February, 2012. (l to r) Conrad Arenas, name here, Nolan Hamblin, Scott McKenney, John Burgess, Eduardo Salazar, Gordon Oldham and Scot Daniels.
    Photo by John Burgess/The Press Democrat

I remember photographing the 49ers playoff game against Green Bay at Candlestick Park on Jan. 12. I remember 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sprinting 55 yards right at me. I remember shooting 80 images as he scored. That's got to be the shot of the game, right? I remember the third quarter ending with the 49ers about to score. I remember jogging 120 yards to the other end zone with three cameras bouncing against my body. I remember kneeling down. I remember my heart shaking violently, pulsing shock waves to my hands and feet.

Then I remember nothing.

That's when my heroes went into action. Paramedic Scot Daniels and Sacramento fire Capt. Scott McKenney reached me first, assessed me and quickly began CPR. Jacob Witful started a ventilator to supply the oxygen my body needed. The crowd around my lifeless body grew as paramedics Eduardo Salazar, Nolan Hamblen and Gordon Oldham arrived with a gurney and a defibrillator.

Someone in the crowd above me recorded the rescue on her iPhone. In an out-of-body experience, I watched as McKenney started CPR, my stomach expanding with the force of his compressions. I saw the growing group of rescuers clearing away from me with hands in the air, then my body jolting from the defibrillator shocks. McKenney said my heart tried a few beats after each shock, then fell back again into the ventricular fibrillation, or v-fib, that caused the heart attack. My body was unresponsive, but they were breathing for me and keeping my heart pumping with CPR. My heroes did not give up.

Ten minutes after my heart stopped beating, after the fourth shock, my heart showed a glimmer of life. I was transported to San Francisco General Hospital with a police motorcycle leading the way.

I remember waking up to the sound of too many sirens, the shaking of the gurney, the square of light on the roof of the ambulance. I knew where I was and what happened, but I also remember hollering, hooting and high-fives. I remember someone breathlessly exclaiming they had never been in an ambulance with so many people inside. I remember being alive again.

I called the Cotati-based ambulance company when I received a bill a few weeks after my double-bypass surgery. I wanted to know the story about the time I was gone. I wanted to know if I really remember the scene as I awoke in the ambulance. Mostly, I wanted to thank the people who saved me.

I thought it would be a burden for my heroes to meet me and my family. It's their job to rescue injured people, and surely they must be tired of their patients saying thank you. They drove in from San Jose and the Central Valley. Once again I was surrounded by my rescuers, this time with big grins instead of serious looks on their faces.

The driver of the ambulance, Conrad Arena, said he heard the cheers in the back and knew I was alive. Paramedic Salazar asked if I remember what I first said to him. I vaguely remember his questions to test my brain function as I gasped for air but didn't remember my first sentence: "My wife is going to kill me." As we talked, more than one of the rescuers claimed it was the highlight of their career to meet with me, my wife and daughter. I assured them it was the highlight of my life.

Salazar told me that in his 13 years on an ambulance, he had received two phone calls to thank him but never shaken the hand of someone he had saved. ProTranport-1 President Elena Whorton told me that in her 15 years on an ambulance, she never heard a thank you from her survivors. New federal privacy rules mean first responders typically don't learn of the fate of their patient after they wheel them into the ER.


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