SOMERS, N.Y. – Never is there a good time to suffer a heart attack. But if one is destined to go into cardiac arrest, one can only hope to be in as fortuitous a situation as Matthew Tuttle was on Sunday, Aug. 2.
Within 5 seconds of collapsing on the Northern County Trailway while returning to Yorktown on a round-trip bicycle ride to Brewster, a paramedic had started CPR on Tuttle. And in less than a minute, he had been connected to an electrocardiogram machine.
So, how to explain the seemingly miraculous response time?
Tuttle, a Yorktown-based paramedic with Empress EMS, had been riding on the trail with two of his co-workers. One of them, Bill Rothschild, was riding alongside Tuttle while the other had gone farther ahead. They were near the Putnam-Westchester border when Tuttle began complaining of chest pains and asked paramedics to come and perform an EKG, which detects heart problems. Rothschild urged Tuttle to hold out a little longer, until they made it to the Granite Springs Road crossing near the border of Somers and Yorktown, where Rothschild requested Yorktown paramedics to meet them.
“Matt and I took a very gentle ride there,” Rothschild said. “Matt got off his bike and says, ‘This is getting quite a bit worse.’ ” So Rothschild again called the paramedics, who were now just seconds away on Curry Street.
As they were talking, Rothschild said, “I heard the sound of Matt crashing to the ground.” He told the paramedics, hung up the phone and immediately started chest compressions and administering mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Incredibly, Tuttle came to.
“He didn’t just start breathing again,” Rothschild said. “He woke up, sat up. He was talking, he was confused at where he was. He didn’t know where he was, but he was talking, which is completely unheard of.”
At that moment, paramedics Dick Harvey and Kelsey Dworjan arrived. Because it was raining and Tuttle had been sweating, using electrodes to hook Tuttle up to the EKG machine was a “non-starter.” So they used defibrillation pads, which Rothschild describes as “pancakes with crazy glue.” Within a minute of being connected, Tuttle fell unconscious again.
“Now, there was no guess work,” Rothschild said. “He was on an EKG machine. Matt is in ventricular fibrillation. His heart is not producing any output; you have to shock him. Kelsey charged up the machine to shock him. They delivered the shock, and before we could even assess for a pulse, Matt woke up again.”
Members of the Somers Volunteer Fire Department had now started to arrive. Rothschild then called the Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla and asked them to prepare their cardiac catheterization lab for a patient.
“A cardiac cath lab is not the kind of thing that’s open on a weekend,” Rothschild said. “There’s people on call but they’re not in the hospital. They have to come in from home, wash their hands, put out the welcome mat, and put the lights on. I said, ‘Start doing that.’ ”
For the third time, Tuttle fell unconscious.
“We all kind of looked at each other like, ‘Not again,’ ” Dworjan said. “We just saw the worst thing that a lot of us had seen in a very long time, if not ever, on the job. Then we did it again, five minutes later.”
After being shocked with the defibrillators, Tuttle woke up again, this time with a CPR machine attached to him, “which nobody had ever seen,” Rothschild said. “That just doesn’t happen.”
He attributes Tuttle’s repeated waking to the rapid CPR that was performed by paramedics. “If there’s a moral to this whole story to the public: Learn CPR,” Rothschild said.
An ambulance packed with paramedics, including Dworjan, was now en route to Valhalla. During the ride, she called Tuttle’s wife, Victoria, who is a nurse.
“I wanted to be like,’ Matt is currently awake, and he’s talking, and he’s good, and his vital signs are really stable, but like, you know, 10 minutes ago he was in cardiac arrest,’ ” Dworjan said. “She’s like, ‘I’m coming to New York.’ ”
Tuttle, who was raised locally and has worked for Empress for 23 years, lives with his family in Pennsylvania.
“Because of the hours I work, commuting is not an issue,” Tuttle said. “I do two 24s and then I’m done.”
At the medical center, Tuttle spent 25 minutes in the emergency room before being transferred to the cardiac catheterization lab, which was ready thanks to Rothschild’s quick thinking. He is now out of the hospital and recovering.
“If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here,” Tuttle said. “It’s so hard to come up with something to say. It was the right place, the right time, the right people.”
Rothschild said the situation turned out as good as they could have hoped.
“A whole lot of lucky things happened,” Rothschild said, including the availability of all of the emergency personnel, who fortunately were not on other calls. He also said the familiar location was fortunate.
“Had we been in Putnam County when this happened, I wouldn’t have even known where I was. If we were on a more isolated part of the trail…There are many, many ways this could have gone the other way, but a lot of pieces clicked just right.”
Perhaps most fortunate was that he was riding with people trained to save lives. In Dworjan’s case, she learned from Tuttle.
“He taught he how to be a medic,” Dworjan said. “It was such an intricate twist of fate to be able to return that favor.”