This Sailor Didn't Die, And Now Saves Lives

This Sailor Didn't Die, And Now Saves Lives

Paul Rittenhouse, Northport, NY – 45 at time of event (2005)

One warm Friday summer afternoon, Paul was on his way to get a new gadget for his sailboat. He’d just revitalized a 22 foot Ensign sailboat and needed a tension gauge to check the mainstays. He didn’t make it. Instead he crashed the car. It wasn’t exactly his fault, he was clinically dead at the time he collided with a tree on the side of the road, just outside the fire station and opposite a supermarket. The impact was not enough to deploy the airbags, but it did total his Jeep. Paul doesn’t have any recollection of the accident, nor much of the week in hospital afterwards. He knows what happened because he stays in contact with the witness who saved his life.

A car careering off the road is not that unusual an event, but having a Suffolk County Police cruiser and an off duty EMT witness it is. Both stopped to investigate. They found Paul unconscious and not breathing. Monique Moreno, from the Huntington Community First Aid Squad, immediately began CPR – right there inside the car with the seat back laid down as far as it would go. Fortunately, the cruiser was equipped with an AED, and they shocked Paul three times to get his heart back into rhythm. The emergency services took some time to reach the scene, and then quickly transferred him to Huntington Hospital. There he was put into a drug induced coma for three days, and received hypothermia treatment for 18 hours, which lowered his body temp to 90 degrees in order to help prevent brain damage.

Paul recovered fully, and went back to work in the health insurance industry.

“I’m astounded I actually beat the odds, because I rarely do! That’s the one time I won the lottery,” he said with pride. He can feel confident of those odds because he had an ICD implanted before leaving the hospital. It is like having a private EMT crew with him at all times.

“I like my ICD because it gives me a level of comfort,” Paul said. “It’s foolish to tempt fate, and I’m a pretty cautious person.” Paul did not let this episode in his life go unnoticed. Within a few months he joined that same Huntington Community First Aid Squad, and every Wednesday evening he goes out on emergency calls. He feels it is just such an overwhelming opportunity to make a difference, and has now saved several cardiac arrest victims.

“I also do the AED program for our little league. We have eight AEDs, I have one in my car. You know, I just live and breath defibrillators.”

He is proud to give back to the community and is continually astounded at the miracle of defibrillation. “There’s nothing in this world, where you can take someone who is dying from a disease, and push a button and make them back to normal. Except one thing, and that’s cardiac arrest.”

This truly is modern day reanimation; cardiac arrest is deadly, and yet it can be reversed. Although, Paul did stress the urgency of action, “...it’s in the first four minutes, or if there’s CPR maybe you get ten minutes. But it’s got to be good CPR!”

The power of his experience on both sides of an SCA event is palpable, and yet it seems so simple.

“You get there, apply some pads, turn the machine on, push a button and the person comes back to life again.”

-Jeremy Whitehead

Mission & Vision

The mission of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) Foundation is to prevent death and disability from sudden cardiac arrest. The vision of the SCA Foundation is to increase awareness about sudden cardiac arrest and influence attitudinal and behavioral changes that will reduce mortality and morbidity from SCA.

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