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Dr. Thomas Percy gives thanks for life-saving samaritans

  • Thomas "Britt" Percy, center, who had a heart attack while driving two weeks ago, stands with Carol Ostiguy-Finneran, her daughter, Gigi, 2, and Wilson Pyle Thursday at the site where his car felled a tree at the corner of Jackson and Prospect Streets. Pyle, an emergency room physician who saw the accident, and Ostiguy-Finneran, who lives on Jackson Street, helped save Percy's life.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Thomas "Britt" Percy, center, who had a heart attack while driving two weeks ago, stands with Carol Ostiguy-Finneran, her daughter, Gigi, 2, and Wilson Pyle Thursday at the site where his car felled a tree at the corner of Jackson and Prospect Streets. Pyle, an emergency room physician who saw the accident, and Ostiguy-Finneran, who lives on Jackson Street, helped save Percy's life.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Thomas "Britt" Percy, center, who had a heart attack while driving two weeks ago, stands with Carol Ostiguy-Finneran, her daughter, Gigi, 2, and Wilson Pyle Thursday at the site where his car felled a tree at the corner of Jackson and Prospect Streets. Pyle, an emergency room physician who saw the accident, and Ostiguy-Finneran, who lives on Jackson Street, helped save Percy's life.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Thomas "Britt" Percy, center, who had a heart attack while driving two weeks ago, stands with Carol Ostiguy-Finneran, her daughter, Gigi, 2, and Wilson Pyle Thursday at the site where his car felled a tree at the corner of Jackson and Prospect Streets. Pyle, an emergency room physician who saw the accident, and Ostiguy-Finneran, who lives on Jackson Street, helped save Percy's life.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Thomas "Britt" Percy, center, who had a heart attack while driving two weeks ago, stands with Carol Ostiguy-Finneran, her daughter, Gigi, 2, and Wilson Pyle Thursday at the site where his car felled a tree at the corner of Jackson and Prospect Streets. Pyle, an emergency room physician who saw the accident, and Ostiguy-Finneran, who lives on Jackson Street, helped save Percy's life.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Thomas "Britt" Percy, center, who had a heart attack while driving two weeks ago, stands with Carol Ostiguy-Finneran, her daughter, Gigi, 2, and Wilson Pyle Thursday at the site where his car felled a tree at the corner of Jackson and Prospect Streets. Pyle, an emergency room physician who saw the accident, and Ostiguy-Finneran, who lives on Jackson Street, helped save Percy's life.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

— Dr. Thomas “Britt” Percy is chief of hospital medicine at Noble Hospital in Westfield, so he knows about cardiac arrests. He knows that without immediate medical attention, someone experiencing cardiac arrest is likely to die.

That’s why he’s certain a few good samaritans saved his life when they came to his aid a few weeks ago after he had a heart attack driving on Jackson Street.

Their immediate attention — administering CPR and shocking him with a nearby defibrillator — kept blood flowing to his brain and restarted his heart in precious minutes before an ambulance arrived.

“Ten minutes is about as long as anyone can go,” a happy and healthy Percy, 46, said in an interview at the Gazette. “It was miraculous, the way it happened, it goes beyond coincidence. People say I must have guardian angels.”

Since his April 11 heart attack, Percy has made a speedy recovery and met a few of his saviors who happened to be nearby: a mom, a lifeguard and a Baystate Medical Center Emergency Room physician. He met the physician, Dr. Wilson Pyle, while recovering in the hospital.

“The first thing I said was, ‘Thank you for saving my life,’” Percy said. “He said he took a different route to work that day, he wanted to go to the store to get some fresh fruit, and he witnessed the accident by chance ... or by miracle.”

According to the American Heart Association, 92 percent of victims of sudden cardiac arrest die before they reach the hospital. The best way to increase a victim’s chance of survival is to perform CPR and shock the heart back to normal with a defibrillator as soon as possible. The person’s chance of survival decreases by 7 to 10 percent for each minute that his or her normal heartbeat is not restored with a defibrillator.

Percy said he has always believed everyone should be trained to do CPR and use an automated external defibrillator, “but this really brings it home.”

“With the minimal level of training and upkeep you could potentially save a life now or years from now,” he said.

Saving a life

Percy said that on the afternoon of April 11, he was forced to cut his workout at the Northampton Athletic Club short because he had bad heartburn. He drove to CVS on King Street and bought antacid. “The last thing I remember was swigging Mylanta in my truck,” he said.

He doesn’t know why he then drove to Jackson Street, but at 2:30 p.m. his Toyota Tacoma crossed the center line, drove over the curb and into the yard of 19 Jackson St. According to a police report, his truck traveled 183 feet through three yards, flattening fences and bushes, before it stopped when it hit a small tree at the corner of Jackson and Prospect streets.

Pyle, 41, of Florence, said he saw the crash while driving the opposite direction. He and another man stopped and pulled Percy out of the truck. “He had no pulse, he wasn’t breathing,” he recalled.

Pyle said he immediately started CPR and the other man — he knew him only as Keith — started doing rescue breathing to force air into his lungs.

Carol Ostiguy-Finneran, 38, was standing in the yard of her 11 Jackson St. home with her 2-year-old daughter, Gigi, when Percy’s truck flew through the yard about 10 feet away. She said she asked her neighbor to watch Gigi and ran to the truck, where Pyle asked her to see if there was an automatic external defibrillator at the YMCA a few hundred feet down Prospect Street.

At the YMCA, 20-year-old lifeguard Cameron Roach of Massasoit Street was clocking out at the front desk. “I heard a woman yelling for an AED and I grabbed it and followed her across the street,” he recalled.

All three of them were trained to use AEDs, but Ostiguy-Finneran, who received her training at her job at the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department, put the electrode pads on Percy’s chest and gave him the shock that restarted his heart.

Pyle estimated it took between seven and 10 minutes for emergency responders to arrive and take Percy, who was still unconscious though his heart was beating again, to Cooley Dickinson Hospital. He said that in that amount of time, Percy “would have been dead,” if he had not been given CPR and the defibrillator shock. “The assumption is you only have a few minutes,” he said.

Percy was revived at the hospital and then taken to Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, where doctors found that one of his main arteries was completely blocked.

He had thought he was a low risk for heart attack, even though his father had one at 53, because he is healthy, active and has no blood pressure or cholesterol problems. He said heart attacks in healthy people sometimes occur when a minor blockage breaks loose and the body tries to repair the site by clotting. That causes a quick and serious blockage.

At Baystate, doctors sucked out the clot, inserted a stent to keep the artery open and then treated him using a fairly new procedure called therapeutic hypothermia to reduce the risk of brain damage.

“After a period of low oxygen and poor blood flow, the brain can swell,” he said. “Basically, they put you on ice and lower your temperature to the low 90s.” The unconscious patient is chemically paralyzed and doesn’t shiver, and a ventilator regulates breathing.

By Saturday morning, Percy started to wake up following the procedure. “I was in a jovial mood,” he said. “The most important thing was my brain was OK.”

He met Pyle that weekend in the hospital and Ostiguy-Finneran a week later at her home.

Ostiguy-Finneran said she thought Percy had died because he had been unresponsive when they put him in the ambulance.

“When he and his wife and his 16-year-old came to my house, I got very emotional seeing him. It was a strange experience because we had this strange connection. I’m just so glad he’s OK,” she said.

Pyle said he has done many resuscitations in the emergency room, but that was his first one on the way to work.

“I didn’t really think too much about it, I just did it,” he said. “I didn’t do anything that anyone else wouldn’t have done in that situation.”

Lessons learned

While he was recovering at Baystate, Percy said, a hospital spokesman approached him about helping out in a campaign to promote CPR training to the public. Not surprisingly, he was enthusiastic about the cause.

“They saw it as an example of what can happen if you act quickly,” he said. He said the CPR method has been simplified over the years, so it’s easier to learn, and AEDs also come with simple, clear instructions.

In his case, the proximity of the AED was key. That made him consider the fact that while there are AEDs in many places, from schools to workplaces, people may not know where they are. Some local campaigns to publicize AED locations have resulted in locator websites or apps in other parts of the country, but there is nothing like that for western Massachusetts.

“It should be published somewhere,” he said.

Ostiguy-Finneran said her training with the AED helped her to act without hesitating April 11. “I would hope that if it was my husband, there would be enough trained people around to help him,” she said.

Percy, originally from Ohio, said he was impressed when his saviors told him how many people stopped and offered to help. “People in New England can be a bit reserved, but the way everyone rallied gave me a whole different perspective of the culture here,” he said.

His wife, Valerie Botter, said she also feels differently about Northampton, where she has worked as an attorney for 22 years. “The community saved my husband’s life,” she said. “I feel a bond with community now.”

“I thought I’d become a widow that day,” she said.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.

Related

T. Britton “Britt” Percy: We should all learn how to administer CPR

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

To the editor: As a resident of Hampshire County, I care a great deal about the health, wellness and safety of my family, friends and neighbors. I feel grateful to live in a community where my fellow residents share my concern. While we don’t often think about it, one of the most important things we can do to be a … 0

the man known as "keith" was my husband, Keith Lepine, who teaches at Smith Academy. Another man, Andy Sirulnik, performed mouth to mouth. They were honored to help and thrilled to hear of the doctor's full recovery.

Thank you so much Keith and Andy, your kind actions saved my wonderful husband, and father to our 5 children. Hope to meet you one day to say thank you in person!

As Thomas Britt Percy's mother annd step-father we are so grateful to everyone who had a part in saving Britt's life. We are so aware of how different the outcome might have been had it not been for the miraculous timing and the rapid responses of everyone involved. We thank God for you all We are many miles away in Tennessee and when the phone call came little did we realize how many people were working to save our precious son. Thank you all so much. Betty and Gordon Griffin

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