'I just lucked out' — When a Bennington man collapsed at work, coworkers put their recent CPR training to use
BENNINGTON — It's been the better part of a year of retelling the story, but Bob Ryan still readily talks about being in the right place at the right time on the afternoon of June 3.
It was a sunny day, and the 68-year-old Bennington man had just returned to the William E. Dailey plant in Shaftsbury after delivering some ready-mixed concrete for a construction project. He was driving the cement mixer, on his way to clean the truck, when he blacked out.
Jim Quackenbush, a fellow Dailey employee, happened to drive past Ryan and noticed him slumped behind the wheel. The cement mixer eventually crashed into a work site trailer.
Quackenbush, 42, ran toward the truck while hollering at a co-worker nearby to call 911.
"I think Bob had a heart attack," Quackenbush remembers telling his supervisor in a phone call at that moment. He kept screaming Ryan's name, but didn't get any response. He couldn't feel a pulse.
His supervisor rushed over. They set Ryan on the ground, so they could begin doing CPR. They sent another co-worker to fetch an AED, or an automated external defibrillator, a portable device that delivers an electric shock to the heart in cases of a sudden cardiac arrest.
Gary Gunther, another colleague, administered mouth to mouth resuscitation while Quackenbush did chest compressions — just as they learned in company training.
"You hope you're doing it right," Gunther, 58, said in an interview with Quackenbush this winter. "Better than not trying to do anything at all."
What took place within just five to 10 minutes "seemed like forever," Quackenbush said.
A few minutes later, Vermont state troopers showed up followed by members of the Bennington Rescue Squad. At one point, there were apparently at least 15 people on the scene, as well as three ambulances. The rescue squad eventually loaded Ryan into an ambulance.
"I really thought that was the last time I was gonna see Bob," Quackenbush said.
Mike Buttigieg, operations manager at the Bennington Rescue Squad, emphasized that first-aid and CPR training among members of the public make a significant difference in life or death cases like Ryan's.
"We're appreciative of the public assistance that we get when we receive calls," Buttigieg said, adding that the coordination and skill Ryan's co-workers displayed during his medical emergency was notable.
Ryan didn't regain consciousness until he was at Albany Medical Center. He stayed there for 21 days.
Doctors, he said, put in a stent to prop open a clogged artery and gave him a pacemaker. He estimates being billed around $750,000 in medical expenses, but he only had to pay $200 thanks to his Medicare coverage and a secondary, private insurance.
He has since been eating a healthier diet, has stopped drinking and is trying to lose 50 pounds.
Ryan, who has worked at Dailey as a truck driver for nearly 38 years, feels fortunate he didn't pass out while driving on the road or at home, where he lives alone. He has never been married and doesn't have children.
"If it had happened here, I would have been dead," he said in an interview at his mobile home. "I just lucked out."
Instead, the state police barracks is located next-door to his workplace. When the Bennington Rescue Squad got the call about his emergency, the squad had just completed a training session on how to handle critical cardiac cases such as Ryan's.
He went back to work in October, and has since been thanking everyone involved in his rescue. He provided the Banner a 14-point list of individuals and groups to whom he is thankful, including a friend who looked after him while he was in the hospital and the nurses who checked in on him at home.
He repeatedly says this story isn't about him, but about the people who helped him. "Of all the people that did anything, I was the one that did the least," he said. "All I did was pass out."
Being in the right place at the right time also meant he got to cross an item off his bucket list: riding a helicopter. He was always curious about being up in the air, but at the same time feared the prospect of flying. A helicopter flew him to Albany Medical while he was unconscious, and he has lived to tell the story.
Contact Tiffany Tan at email@example.com, @tiffgtan on Twitter or 802-447-7567 ext. 122.
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