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First responders honored for life-saving acts

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Photo by Tamie Meck Larry Hicks, second from left, poses with seven first responders among the estimated 37 people who helped save his life in the two and a half hours following a July 18 heart attack. From left, Hotchkiss Deputy Gates Shaklee, Hotchkiss

If you ask his family members, friends, and co-workers at Zack's Bar-B-Q, they'll probably say that Larry Hicks is a one-in-a-million guy. Statistically speaking, he is one in nine.

On the afternoon of July 18, and without warning, Hicks, a 25-year employee of Zack's, suffered a severe heart attack at work. By chance, trained first responders were dining at Zack's and provided Hicks the immediate life-saving care he needed to survive.

The first responders and medical professionals who cared for Hicks that day were honored in a heartwarming ceremony Thursday at Hotchkiss Town Hall. "It makes me really happy to see that we have a community that knows how to respond in emergency crises and be able to do the things that they've done," said town Marshal Dan Miller in an emotional opening statement.

Hicks, who personally thanked each of the first responders, gave a thumbs up when Marshal Miller thanked everyone for attending the event, "and especially you, Larry. Glad you're still with us."

Miller read a letter written to Hicks "and all the people who helped," from Delta County Memorial Hospital emergency specialist Dr. Treve Henwood. Henwood stated that July 18 was likely one of the best days of Hicks' life. "I do not like to say this tongue in cheek or to get a laugh, only that it is true. When you collapsed at your work, you were essentially dead."

Henwood counted 37 people who were directly involved in the life-saving care Hicks received in the two and a half hours following onset of the heart attack. The quick actions of diners saved Hicks' life by supplying blood and oxygen to the brain, "preventing severe brain damage."

Crawford resident Caleb Schelle, a 2014 Hotchkiss High School graduate, was celebrating his 19th birthday with three friends when a waitress entered the dining room asking for a doctor.

Schelle was certified as a Wilderness First Responder in 2013, in Thailand, courtesy of family friend Pam Cocker of Crawford. He thought the skills would come in handy while out hiking and camping, and was considering a career in medicine, "and she wanted to give me the opportunity to explore that."

One of his friends motioned to Schelle who was unsure if he should step up for fear the problem was out of his realm. But his friend persisted, said Schelle, urging him to do something.

Schelle followed the waitress to the back of the restaurant, where first responder Lionel Atwell was already performing chest compressions. Performing CPR at 100 chest compressions per minute is physically challenging and Atwell was already getting tired. He asked Schelle to take over.

"These two guys really made a difference in that care," said Kathy Steckel, executive director of North Fork Ambulance. "Statistics show that people stand a 30 percent better chance making it through this kind of event if they have early chest compressions."

Hotchkiss Fire District volunteers Tyler Simpson and Kaden Milstein were also among the first responders. Hotchkiss Deputy Gates Shaklee arrived with an automated external defibrillator, or AED, which he carries in his patrol car and is trained to use. He used the device to briefly return Hicks' heart to a normal rhythm. That step, wrote Henwood, probably saved Hicks' life.

Dr. Henwood went on to describe how North Fork Ambulance volunteers Marvin Gaule, Debbie Leger, Doug Leger, and new EMT Sandy Leger arrived, evaluated Hicks, assisted in CPR, and attached a Lucas 2 automatic compression device to his chest. En route to DCMH they rendezvoused with Delta County Ambulance District members Marvin Pemberton and Ben Mulshausen, who further assessed Hicks and administered medications. Once in the emergency room an entire team worked to stabilize his heart. A very long 66 minutes later he opened his eyes, wrote Henwood. "There were nurses respiratory therapists, radiology technicians, laboratory technicians and physicians working hard to further stabilize your heart,."

Hicks was then transported to St. Mary's Hospital in Grand Junction, where a whole new team took over his care.

Marshal Miller said that only one in nine people survive the type of heart attack that struck Hicks that day. "That's not very good odds," said Miller. Since early care is crucial to saving a life following a heart attach, "He beat the odds because so many people in this community cared."

"To be touched by 37 souls so dedicated and caring in one day does not happen very often," wrote Henwood. "I would guess that all those people feel lucky, too, that they were able to help save a life."

Schelle and his friends went to his house to play ping-pong and wait for news on Hick. He received a call from one of the waitresses at Zack's that Larry was going to be okay.

This was the first time Schelle actually performed CPR, and he's grateful to Cocker that he knew CPR. "I hope I don't have to use it again," said Schelle, a second-year mechanical engineering student at Colorado School of Mines. He will renew his three-year CPR certification next year.

Schelle said he doesn't feel like a hero. "I feel like anyone that had the certification would have done the same thing... I feel lucky that I was there and was certified."

As for anyone considering CPR certification, "I would just recommend that do it," said Schelle. "It's good to have. Hopefully you'll never have to use it, but in the off chance that you do, it pays off 100 times."

Photo submitted A Lucas 2 device was used in saving the life of Larry Hicks. The device is standard equipment for the North Fork Ambulance.
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