Kris Stehlik, 60, finally had the chance to say thank you to some of the men who saved her life when her heart stopped last year.
For Luke Ratzlaff and Binh Chung, the two Sedgwick County Emergency Medical Service paramedics who responded when Stehlik went into cardiac arrest, meeting a former cardiac arrest patient was a rare occurrence.
“I didn’t know what to say when I came up to you,” Ratzlaff said once he’d recovered from being tongue-tied.
“I had all the saying to do,” Stehlik replied. “Thank you.”
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About 12 survivors of sudden cardiac arrest were reunited with the EMS paramedics, firefighters and dispatchers who had a role in their survival at a Sedgwick County EMS event Wednesday.
The Sedgwick County EMS was also honored with the Mission Lifeline award from the American Heart Association.
Stehlik was at work when she collapsed on June 13, 2016. Her coworkers did CPR on her for 20 minutes before EMS arrived. When EMS arrived, they called her sister, asking if they should continue trying to resuscitate her. Her sister said yes, so they cooled her temperature using induced hypothermia, trying to reduce damage to her brain. Stehlik later woke from a coma.
When Stehlik met Chung and Ratzlaff, she asked them about the day they responded to the call – and whether they thought she was gone for good.
“You never know until it’s over,” Ratzlaff said. “It’s worth the fight.”
The three posed for a photo along with Mason Noll, Stehlik’s 8-year-old grandson, before the two paramedics gave Mason a tour of an ambulance.
“It’s very eye-opening, very heartwarming to know we made a difference in someone’s life,” Chung said.
“Without them I wouldn’t be here,” Stehlik said.
For others, it wasn’t the first time reuniting with the first responders who saved them.
Mark Heinz, 59, lives in Valley Center, where he knows the firefighters who have twice responded when he has gone into cardiac arrest.
Heinz had his first heart attack in 2008. Later, he got a defibrillator and pacemaker. That pacemaker stopped working on Thanksgiving 2015. Heinz’s son, a Marine, did CPR until the Valley Center Fire Department arrived.
“They say that was pretty much a miracle that they brought Mark back at that point with no brain damage and able to live a normal life,” said Kris Heinz, Mark’s wife.
On Feb. 10, Heinz had another attack and also survived.
Fire Lt. Chad Tormey and firefighter Josh Tormey, cousins, were both on the Thanksgiving call.
Today, they see Heinz around town and know that they played a role in saving his life.
“There’s really no way to describe it,” Josh Tormey said. “You’ve run this type of thing a hundred times and the outcome is different every time.”
“This was just the perfect outcome,” Chad Tormey added.