CHAUTAUQUA – Bob Dillemuth recalls waking up in an Erie, Pa., hospital, but not much else.
A faint memory of swooshing helicopter blades is there, too.
But ask him about the heart attack that almost claimed his life while jogging July 28 in the hamlet of Hartfield and things get hazy.
“I don’t remember the incident itself,” said Bob, an Erie resident who spends half of the year in a cottage around Chautauqua Lake with his wife, Darleen. “I had no pain in my arm or heaviness in my chest.”
The Titusville, Pa., native said his first concrete memory following his near-fatal heart attack was talking with doctors. The diagnosis: A 99 percent blockage of his right coronary artery and a 80 percent blockage of his left anterior descending artery – the latter known as the widow-maker.
One stent was placed in Bob’s right artery and two more in his left.
“I was very surprised,” he said of hearing the news for the first time. “I had been a basketball player all through high school and college; I’ve been a runner for 35 years.”
Bob, a retired choral director for the Millcreek Township School District for 35 years, had a four-day stay in the hospital before his Aug. 1 discharge. For almost a month he was required to wear a heart monitor vest equipped with a defibrillator.
“There had to have been some divine intervention,” said Bob, noting his strong religious convictions. “… so many things for me to be alive had to fall into place. And they fell into place.”
Darleen could sense it. Her husband would go for a jog several days a week, but never was gone long.
So when a member of the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office arrived at her cottage in Mayville two hours after Bob left, Darleen’s heart sank.
“I’ve been waiting for this. He’s been gone too long,'” she remembered telling the officer. “I got this queasy feeling in my stomach and I kept watching the clock, and he didn’t come, and he didn’t come.”
Darleen called Westfield Memorial Hospital where Bob was taken and was told he was being airlifted to UPMC Hamot in Erie. Doctors feared that Bob also had suffered a stroke in the midst of his heart attack.
The 45-minute drive to Erie was terrifying.
“I guess I just didn’t know what to anticipate. I didn’t know what had happened,” Darleen said Friday, fighting back tears has she recalled the incident.
“I didn’t know what I was going to find.”
Doctors later told Darleen that Bob’s heart went into arrhythmia, an abnormal heart rate that caused him to go into cardiac arrest.
On July 28, like so many times before, Bob drove two miles from his cottage to Hartfield in an area he liked to run. His route usually lasted a couple of miles and took him around the lake.
He began his run at 9:30 a.m., or so he believes. He doesn’t remember anything from that day.
According to eyewitnesses, after making it to Sea Lion Drive and onto Mill Road, Bob collapsed.
Nick Kompare, who was training for a marathon and also jogging at the time, came across the scene and found the driver of a pickup truck over Bob.
“He started yelling, ‘I think this guy is having a heart attack. Do you know CPR?'” said Kompare, who had some knowledge of cardiopulmonary resuscitation in college.
Kompare and the pickup driver began CPR on Bob while a nearby resident called 911. Meanwhile, sheriff’s deputy Michael Seeley – who said he wasn’t scheduled to work that day – was at the Sheriff’s Office in Mayville when he overheard the call for an unresponsive male on Mill Road.
As one of the only deputies certified as an emergency medical technician, Seeley got into his patrol car and drove the two miles to the scene. Once on location he attached an automated external defibrillator and, within seconds, delivered a shock to Bob’s heart.
After about five more rounds of CPR, Seeley said Bob began to breathe on his own. “They loaded him up and they took off for the hospital,” he said.
The Sheriff’s Office placed its first AED in a patrol car 10 years ago. Today, there are more than 50 of the machines on the road and in the Chautauqua County Jail.
In fact, every vehicle with the Sheriff’s Office now comes equipped with an AED, said Undersheriff Charles Holder. “We had the opportunity to get some grant money to get the initial run out,” he said.
Univera Healthcare donated 17 AEDs to the Sheriff’s Office in 2009, and literally had a hand in saving Bob’s life. Kompare, who received a certificate of recognition from Holder for his effort, is the vice president of strategic planning at Univera Healthcare.
The irony is not lost on Bob, or Holder.
“We have the perfect example right here,” Holder said of keeping AEDs in every vehicle. “We don’t know when or where we will use these. We could just be traveling down the road and just happen to go to an incident and be in the right location.”
LUCKY TO BE ALIVE
On Friday, and seeing each other for the first time since the incident, Bob gave Seeley a big hug. Darleen got one, too.
“They saved my life. I’m here because of Nick and this deputy,” Bob said.
According to the American Heart Association, those who go into cardiac arrest outside a hospital setting have less than a 5 percent survival rate. Doctors told Bob without the immediate CPR and AED he would have died within minutes, well before any first responder likely would have made it to render help.
Seeley and Nick, however, do not see themselves as heroes.
“I’m not the hero in this,” Seeley said. “Nick started the CPR, and if they hadn’t started what they started, me showing up wouldn’t have made a difference.”
Said Nick, “I just happened to be by and the circumstances just happened to play out they way that they did. That’s why you have the training.”
The pickup driver who helped perform CPR has not been identified.
Bob, meanwhile, said he expected to make a full recovery; his heart did not sustain much damage following his scare, doctors said.
He hopes to start jogging again, much to the dismay of his wife.
“I’m going to follow him from now on whenever he goes out,” Darleen said.