Macon EMT meets Michigan man he saved in Hawaii

lfabian@macon.comJanuary 30, 2013 

EMT Andrew Werkheiser was supposed to be enjoying some rest and relaxation from CPR while vacationing last month in Hawaii.

That all changed when he saw a crowd of people gathered around a middle-aged man face down on the ground.

“You could tell by the way he was lying that he had fallen,” Werkheiser said.

The 21-year-old Mercer University senior, who first joined Mid Georgia Ambulance in June as a marketing intern, told his van driver to stop.

By the time the trained emergency medical technician had gotten to the vacationing Michigan man, someone had rolled him over and his face was blue.

“He didn’t have a pulse and he wasn’t breathing, so you go with CPR,” Werkheiser said.

He kept the chest compressions going for more than 10 minutes until an ambulance arrived on the small two-lane road that leads to North Shore in Honolulu.

Rescue crews pulled out the defibrillator, shocked the patient back into a heart rhythm and loaded him into the ambulance.

Honolulu EMS later sent him a framed commendation for his efforts stating they were “grateful for citizens like you who provide assistance in case of emergency.”

The collapsed man, who had been biking along the beach with his stepson, was whisked away to a nearby hospital and then rushed to another facility to have two stents put in his heart.

“He had a 100 percent blockage in the left aorta. They call it the widow-maker,” Werkheiser said.

Saturday in Michigan, the woman who could have been that widow had tears in her eyes as she wrapped her arms around the young man who saved her husband’s life.

The family treated the young paramedic to a steak dinner after he flew to Kalamazoo to consciously meet his “first save.”

The man wished to remain anonymous, but wanted to share his story to stress the importance of learning the Hand 2 Heart CPR method that relies solely on chest compressions and skips mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Werkheiser, who is on the ambulance service’s poster demonstrating the CPR method, met more than two dozen friends and relatives who celebrated the man’s recovery.

Seeing the faces of grandchildren made Werkheiser realize what might have happened if he had not come along and the man had died.

“It would have been a real bad Christmas for them. They would have remembered that forever,” said the former resident of Roswell. “That really hit me when I saw the kids.”

Werkheiser stayed in contact with the family in hours and days following the rescue.

The man’s daughter called Mid Georgia Ambulance a few days later to express her gratitude for their employee’s quick action.

“You have to have confidence in your ability to jump out of a taxi like that,” said Amy Abel-Kiker, director of public relations for Mid Georgia Ambulance.

The family offered to pay for his flight to Michigan, but Werkheiser refused. He had plenty of frequent flier miles to burn.

“Every few flights, I find myself in a situation,” he said.

The airlines previously rewarded him for coming to the aid of passengers on three occasions, he said.

Then on the flight home Sunday, an Arabic-speaking man’s blood pressure shot sky high.

Werkheiser cared for him until the plane landed in Atlanta, where he met a fire chief at the gate.

It was the second time Werkheiser had met that same first-responder. They both worked on a prior in-flight emergency.

Men on the front lines of disaster piqued Werkheiser’s interest in saving lives back when he was in high school.

As a camp counselor, he had gotten his first taste of emergency medicine in a mandatory first-responders’ course.

Stories from volunteer firefighters made him want to be an EMT.

“They were as passionate as I am now about wanting to help someone in the worst possible moment,” Werkheiser said.

He is set to graduate from Mercer with a degree in marketing management in May and plans to get his MBA after that.

When asked about his future, he doesn’t know exactly what he want to do.

After saving his first patient, he is convinced he wants to be involved in emergency medical services and working on an ambulance as much as possible.

“It’s just an awesome experience to see the direct effect of something as simple as Hand 2 Heart CPR that we teach here.”

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.

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