Bethesda heart attack victim rushed to Suburban Hospital in fire truck
Wife called 911 for 15 minutes before getting through to a Montgomery County dispatcher
Melvyn L. Newman was lying on the 10-inch-wide floor space in the cab of a fire engine, his head propped against the leg of the emergency responder who had to stand to make room, his air tank running out of oxygen and his heart running out of time.
But on a night that was going wrong for so many people stranded in traffic and without power during the Jan. 26 storm, everything went right for Newman, 73.
Newman had a heart attack while shoveling his North Bethesda driveway and needed medical attention fast. But thanks to the paramedics in a fire engine dispatched to the scene, Newman survived his near-fatal crisis.
"Everything lined up perfectly for this guy for things to go great," said Dr. Philip Strauss, the chairman of emergency medicine at Suburban Hospital and one of Newman's doctors.
The ordeal began around 7:30 p.m., when Newman went to shovel the heavy snow coating his driveway. He felt tightness in his chest that did not go away after a few breaks from the work. His wife, Linda Singer, called for help.
"I called 911 it was busy. I called again same thing," she said. "I called six times and I'm thinking Oh my God, he's lying on the floor, he's going to die and I can't get through to 911.'"
Montgomery County's 911 center received about 3,300 calls Jan. 26, a 134 percent increase from the previous day's total, according to a statement from county police.
After six calls over about 15 minutes, Singer got through to a dispatcher. About 15 minutes later, a fire engine pulled up and paramedics rushed to Newman, who was lying on the garage floor.
Paramedics stabilized Newman, helped him walk to the engine and set off for the hospital, weaving through stagnant traffic.
Singer, Newman and Strauss all credit the paramedic team's early work with saving Newman's life.
"I had 10 or 15 minutes more, if they hadn't gotten me there's that part that's after the fact you can think about and deal with," said Newman. "That's how close it was."
Dwayne Dutrow, a shift captain for Montgomery County Fire and Rescue, was the paramedic on board the fire engine that responded to Newman's home. Dutrow, 41, of Thurston, said it is standard procedure for a fire engine with a paramedic to be the first dispatched to an emergency, but that usually an ambulance or second paramedic team follows to transport the patient.
He said he had never transported anyone in as serious a condition as Newman in a fire engine, but once he and the three EMTs with him determined an ambulance was too far away, they decided to take Newman to the hospital themselves.
"It was tighter, it seemed more primitive," Dutrow said. "We just simply used the equipment we carry with us."
The team of doctors that is called in to operate on severe heart attacks was waiting outside the Bethesda hospital when Newman arrived in Engine 723.
The hospital's emergency room was relatively quiet that night, with Newman's emergency likely the most significant, Suburban spokeswoman Susan Laine said. The hospital saw more emergency patients Thursday and Friday, when slippery walkways and snow blower accidents resulted in more than 20 people needing surgery.
Usually, the team of about four or five must be called in for after-hours surgeries. About 80 percent of the time, they are able to begin work within 90 minutes of when a patient arrives. And on a day when roads were jammed with commuters well into the night, that could have taken much longer, Strauss said. But the team already was on campus after completing a similar surgery and was able to see Newman within 30 minutes.
What the team found inside Newman made their quick response more important: His left anterior descending artery the one that supplies blood to the largest portion of the heart was completely blocked.
After an MRI Tuesday, Newman went home. His doctors advised more exercise and a low-fat, low-carbohydrate diet, but said his heart will be fine so long as he leaves the shoveling to someone else.
Classic symptoms of a heart attack are:
-Chest discomfort, including tightness, squeezing and heaviness
-Discomfort or pain in arms or jaw
Other symptoms could include:
-Shortness of breath
-Sudden fatigue or nausea
If you think you are having a heart attack:
-Call 911 immediately
-Alert others nearby that you are having a medical emergency
-Take an aspirin
-Sit or lie down
Source: Dr. Greg Kumkumian, medical director of coronary care unit, Suburban Hospital