Archive for Sunday, April 11, 1999


April 11, 1999


For Dale Currant, a Feb. 14 heart attack wasn't fatal, thanks to the quick actions of Lawrence's emergency personnel.

Dale Currant's body was shutting down.

His lungs had gasped what should have been their last breath.

His heart stopped beating and was quivering uselessly in his chest.

His brain was needing oxygen-filled blood and wasn't getting it.

At that point, the 63-year-old Lawrence man had about three minutes before the best scenario would be brain damage of some kind.

But Currant's Valentine's Day journey to death was stopped by an electric jolt that reset his heart and returned him to life.

On Friday, Currant was able to shake the hands of some of the people who saved him.

"I appreciate seeing you guys," Currant said simply.

Over the background noise of radio traffic, Currant chatted nervously with the firefighters who helped save his life.

That Currant was able meet his heroes, that he has returned to work and the life he's led, is much less common than television emergency shows might have us believe.

Only a small percentage of people who experience full cardiac arrest live to tell jokes about it, said Dr. Stephanie Lawhorn, a cardiologist with Cardiovascular Consultants in Lawrence.

"I about lost my heart," Currant said of his Valentine's Day drama.

Lawhorn said most heart attacks can be treated. But there has to be someone there to treat them. And they have to be there fast.

Currant lived because the system worked.

"A row of dominoes falling over," Currant called them. "If one domino is out of line, I'm dead."

Currant can thank his wife's quick 911 call, the nearness of the police officer who arrived first to start CPR, and the firefighters who were, literally, only a minute behind.

A long nap

To Currant, it was just a nap.

He wasn't feeling well. There was a tightness in his chest similar to indigestion, but not quite.

"This was kind of different," Currant said. "It just kind of stayed there."

So he went to lie down in the small bedroom the Currants use as a television room in the house near 20th and Rhode Island where they've lived for 37 years.

He awoke two days later at St. Luke's Hospital in Kansas City, Mo.

Currant's wife of 42 years, Barbara, had a little more active role in the drama.

She was in the kitchen checking a chicken casserole when she heard her husband gasping for breath.

"It was really a terrifying sound," Barbara Currant said. "I thought, 'Oh my God.'"

Barbara Currant reached immediately for the cordless phone, dialing 911 on the way to her husband's side.

Though the sinewy Currant is seldom sick, he had surgery in 1997 to clear blockages in two arteries near his heart.

The episode showed Barbara Currant that her husband wasn't indestructible.

The 911 call was made at 5:44 p.m.

Paramedic David Sherman heard the alarm as he was walking back to the Lawrence-Douglas County Fire & Medical station at 19th and Haskell after a training exercise.

He is used to the tones. They rang out at his station more than 7,000 times last year. They come before any call, whether a raging fire, a car accident or the proverbial cat in a tree.

This one started as a medical emergency call. The dispatcher announced there was a possible heart attack victim who was still breathing.

A minute later, Sherman and his peers were pulling out of the station in the ambulance, their fire engine close behind.

Two minutes later, police Officer Tyson Randall arrived at the Currant house.

"I was just a block away," said the 26-year-old officer.

Randall, who spent a couple years working on an ambulance crew in Larned, pulled Currant off the couch to the floor to begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR.

Not far behind was a second officer, Doug Nelson.

They radioed that Currant was "code blue."

That meant he had no pulse and had stopped breathing.

The warning hit home with Sherman.

"That's as bad as you can get. They're dead," Sherman said. "They don't get any worse than that."

At 5:48 p.m., four minutes after the original call, Sherman's ambulance pulled up to the Currant home.

A crowded room

Sherman rushed past Barbara Currant, who was being comforted on the porch by a neighbor.

The small room became crowded with police and firefighters.

"Everyone had their job to do and everyone was doing it," Randall said.

Sherman had Randall stop the CPR just long enough to hook up a heart monitor and defibrillator, a briefcase-sized package of electronics that can track a heartbeat or deliver an electric current to get one started. What Sherman saw on the 3-by-4-inch display screen wasn't good: a wavy line with no distinct beating.

"It's just sitting there quivering," Sherman said.

As they worked, Sherman gave a running commentary of his actions.

"I'm charging," he said, as the defibrillator warmed up. "I'm clear. Everyone else is clear."

Then he touched two buttons on the front of the equipment.

Currant's body seized up. His back arched off the carpet.

Sherman rechecked the screen but saw only the same wavy line.

A second, stronger charge had a better result at 5:53 p.m.

"He came back with a strong pulse," Sherman said. "That's kind of when I knew this might come out OK."

Lyle Schwartz, a paramedic, put a tube down Currant's throat to help him breathe, and Currant was loaded onto a stretcher and then into the ambulance.

By the time the ambulance reached Lawrence Memorial Hospital, Currant was showing signs of regaining consciousness and fought to get the tube out of his mouth.

The struggle was not over, said Dr. Brian Hunt, the emergency room doctor who took Currant in that night. Currant had to be stabilized and flown by helicopter to St. Luke's Hospital for a double angioplasty.

But the police and firefighters had done their jobs, Hunt said.

"They are the people that make the biggest difference," Hunt said. "They are the people out in the field."

Service with a smile

For Currant, the event was lifesaving but not necessarily life-changing.

He returned to work March 31 as a forklift operator at Lawrence Paper Co. and has basically picked up where he left off, though he does get more calls from his brothers, children and grandchildren.

"I look around and think what they'd be like without me," he said.

He's thinking about retirement as well.

"I think I'll get out of there while I can still walk out," he said.

For the emergency personnel, the event served as encouragement.

"There have been a lot of times we got the patient to the hospital alive," said Battalion Chief Peter Houston. "That's kind of a partial victory. To really see somebody's life restored back to normal -- that's pretty special."

"It went just like it was supposed to go," Sherman said. "That's a pretty good feeling."

Officer Randall has worked a few heart attacks.

"Most of the time you are disappointed by how it comes out," he said. "You don't see that a lot of times and see such a happy ending.

"You kind of drove away with a smile on your face."

-- Kendrick Blackwood's phone message number is 832-7221. His e-mail address is

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