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  • 27 Dec 2014

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A heartfelt thank you for rescuers

Tualatin man meets emergency crews, medical team who revived him after his cardiac arrest


by: THE TIMES: JONATHAN HOUSE - Raoul Meekcoms hugged Tualatin Police officers who responded to his cardiac arrest call, which ultimately saved his life, during a celebration of the police, fire and medical response on Thursday. by: THE TIMES: JONATHAN HOUSE - Sandra Meekcoms, left, stands with her husband Raoul and emergency dispatcher Rita McQuiston. Rita instructed Sandra on how to provide CPR to Raoul after he suffered cardiac arrest on Aug. 12.To celebrate their 12th wedding anniversary, Raoul and Sandra Meekcoms chose an unusual venue: Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue’s Station 34.

There, they gathered with about 60 friends and relatives on Sept. 20 to meet the emergency responders and medical staff who saved Raoul’s life just over a month ago. And, the people who Raoul sees as his lifelines were just as eager to meet the man whose odds of survival were at one point lower than 10 percent.

An unexpected interruption

Aug. 12 looked to be a busy day for the Meekcomses, who were preparing to host a bridal shower for one of Sandra’s friends. Sandra was wrapping gifts when Raoul, 61, remarked that he was freezing, despite the 72-degree temperature in their home. When Sandra heard a strange noise a few minutes later, she was up and headed to the master bathroom, phone in hand.

“I had a vision of him lying on the floor,” Sandra said.

She knew immediately he must have had a heart attack, despite his clean medical history. She called 911 and reported that her husband wasn’t breathing and had no pulse. In fact, according to Karen Eubanks of Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue, Raoul was at that moment clinically dead.

Dispatcher Rita McQuiston, who has more than 30 years of experience working in emergency dispatch, instructed Sandra on how to perform CPR on Raoul for over five minutes.

“She counted off all the compressions to keep me on track,” said Sandra. “I didn’t have to focus on any of the details, I could just perform the CPR.”

The first responders were Tualatin Police Officers Kelley Sugate, Jalen Riley and Chief Officer Chet Lemon, who took turns administering CPR and then used a portable defibrillator to shock Raoul’s heart into conversion, or back to a normal rhythm. TVF&R crews, including paramedics, stabilized Raoul and transported him to Legacy Meridian Park Medical Center. All told, he would receive upwards of 40 minutes of CPR — a record in attending doctor Jerry Tran’s experience.

A CT scan showed no damage to the brain. But Raoul was hardly out of danger — he coded again later that day, even after he was placed in a temporary medical coma using therapeutic hypothermia, where his body temperature was lowered to 33 degrees Celcius.

Again, Sandra said, the staff at Meridian Park worked tirelessly to administer CPR, this time for 46 minutes. Then, pulse was restored. Still, Sandra was told to stay at the hospital, as Raoul was not expected to make it through the night. She continued the painful wait, the 24-hour period before they could expect a response from Raoul. After 20 hours, Tran announced that Raoul was conscious and responding to commands. He was tracking movement with his eyes and was breathing without a tube by the end of the next day. His sense of humor, too, quickly returned.

by: THE TIMES: JONATHAN HOUSE - Sandra Meekcoms, center, who saved her husbands life with CPR instructions given to her from a 911 operator, chats with her good friend Cheryl Dorman during a celebration that Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue held Thursday to honor all of the emergency personnel who saved Raoul Meekcoms life. “I have no recall whatsoever — starting with Rita, as long as they performed CPR through the hospital,” Raoul said. “I’m incredibly lucky that I’m alive and not damaged. Everyone thought I would be — that if I survived, it would be with a far reduced mental and physical capacity.”

Raoul was home within the week.

Slim chances of survival

His own miraculous recovery is not lost on Raoul, who works as a manufacturer representative in the construction industry. He’s well aware of the statistics: There’s a mere 5 to 10 percent survival rate for those who suffer cardiac arrest.

“Everything was done with such a small margin of error. That started with Sandra and the 911 operator and the police department taking over the CPR, then the paramedics and hospital staff,” Raoul said.

This is what Eubanks refers to as the “survival chain” — and in Tualatin, there is a better rate of survival than the national average: 10 to 23 percent with cardiac arrest patients.

In addition to quick emergency response times and talented medical staff, Eubanks said one of the biggest factors in survival is the fact that emergency dispatchers are trained to instruct callers on “hands-only” CPR, also known as “bystander CPR.” Rather than asking callers to apply pressure to a victim’s chest and then provide breaths, hands-only CPR requires only chest compression. This is useful in adult victims only, Eubanks added.

A happy reunion

When TVF&R contacted the Meekcomses about a possible reunion with the emergency response team and medical staff, the couple agreed, and even hosted an open house at their own home to follow the reception at the fire station.

“It was important for us to do that,” said Raoul. “Our son-in-law is a paramedic and firefighter in Phoenix. We have a bit of an understanding of what these guys go through and what they see.”

“They had everyone from the 911 operator to the police department to the fire department to the paramedics to the hospital team, they had everyone there,” added Sandra. “It was absolutely fantastic.”

In attendance were Tualatin Police officers, paramedics from both TVF&R and Metro West Ambulance and doctors and nurses from Meridian Park.

“I think the major reason (for the turnout) is the fact that I lived after I shouldn’t have. They were all so moved by it, including hospital staff,” said Raoul. “Several members of the hospital staff said that to see me alive and walking around is the reason they do what they do.”

Eubanks said the fire district makes an effort to reunite survivors and emergency response teams, especially after a cardiac arrest incident. Typically, TVF&R organizes four such reunions a year.

“We’re always looking for those opportunities when we have a survivor,” Eubanks said.

At the reception, the Meekcomses heard the emergency dispatch recording from Aug. 12 and were able to meet McQuiston for the first time. Raoul was able to hug nearly everyone involved in his resuscitation and recovery.

“I try to keep myself in check and to realize how lucky I am,” Raoul said. “My heart just stopped, and I’m lucky.”

The Meekcomses hope Raoul’s story will remind the public of the importance of CPR.

To find out more about CPR and training opportunities, visit www.tvfr.com/safetytips/cpr/index.aspx.