By MATTHEW LANE
KINGSPORT — When Heidi Wallace went into cardiac arrest at her boyfriend’s house last month, the odds were clearly against her.
She was lying on the bathroom floor; her breathing had stopped and she had no pulse. Most people who experience this do not make it, and even if they do, they don’t come out at 100%.
Yet Wallace was able to beat the odds through the actions and quick response of the Kingsport Fire Department.
Wallace’s story begins April 13 when she called in at work after vomiting all day.
Her boyfriend, Dr. Emmett Crawford, took her to the emergency room thinking she was dehydrated. Wallace said the nurses gave her some fluids and sent her home.
However, she was still not acting right.
“The next day I woke up and I don’t remember any of this. I go take a bath and while I’m in the tub I start screaming and say I feel like I’m being poisoned,” Wallace said. “I’m holding my chest and my legs were trembling and shaking uncontrollably.”
At that point, Crawford called 911, got Wallace out of the tub and dried her off. By the time Crawford walked to the driveway to flag the firefighters in and returned to the bathroom, Wallace was lying on the floor, had turned blue and was barely breathing.
Capt. Justin Waycaster, engineer Eric Wilson and firefighter J.T. Osbourne were the firefighters who answered the call by Crawford, who lives in the Hidden Acres neighborhood. Fire Station No. 8 was located just a few miles down Rock Springs Road, and the three men were on the scene in less than five minutes.
“We rolled her over and was trying to figure out what was going on and started assisting her with ventilation,” Waycaster said. “I was putting the cardiac monitor on her with the pads and she somehow quit breathing.”
Firefighters immediately administered a shock from the defibrillator, started CPR and ran an IV. Two minutes later, Wallace’s condition remained the same, so a second shock was administered and CPR continued. Twenty seconds later, Wilson found a pulse and Wallace began breathing on her own.
EMS arrived soon after and took Wallace to the hospital. She was in a coma for five days and stayed in the hospital for about three weeks.
Last week, Wallace, her twin sons and Crawford went to Fire Station No. 8 to thank Waycaster, Wilson and Osbourne in person.
“I can’t imagine not thanking them. They not only changed my life, but my entire family,” Wallace said. “They’re the reason I’m here today. And I took my kids with me to thank them; otherwise they’d be without a mother.”
Waycaster said the reunion was a great experience.
“It’s not often you get to meet the people you actually work on,” he said. “We usually see people on their worst days and not their good days.”
Wallace, 47, has never had issues like this before. Today, she’s feeling much better. She’s getting out and walking, pushing herself as much as she can without overdoing it.
“I’m just lucky,” she said. “They got here in the nick of time.”
Waycaster agrees, saying the odds were definitely not in Wallace’s favor. In 15 years as a firefighter, Waycaster said he’s seen maybe four patients achieve 100% viability post cardiac arrest.
“Most of the time (the people) die. If they don’t, it’s very rare they come out of it at 100%,” Waycaster said.
“We had a really quick response time and if something like that happens, if you can be there within five minutes, you can change the outcome in just five minutes.”