ST. JOSEPH — Sometimes the right people are in the right place at the right time.
That’s what happened last Friday when Thomas McDonough, a St. Joseph resident, went into full cardiac arrest while driving across the Blossomland Bridge, crashing into a guardrail and ending up unconscious and without a pulse.
Remarkably, one of the first people on the scene was Christopher Martin, an Indiana emergency medical technician and firefighter, who happened to be on an outing with his family.
Martin, with others, pulled McDonough from his car before officers and ambulances arrived. McDonough had no pulse and wasn’t breathing when Martin began administering CPR, helping to save his life.
St. Joseph Public Safety Officer Jared Weaver, who was called to the scene, said it was “a miracle” that an off-duty emergency responder who recognized the symptoms and knew what to do was right there.
Martin’s presence and actions were “absolutely crucial” to the survival of McDonough, who continues to improve at Lakeland Medical Center, Weaver said.
“In these situations, it’s not minutes that count, it’s seconds,” Weaver said. In his 10-year career, this is only the second time that Weaver has seen a cardiac arrest victim brought back through CPR.
Many things aligned to bring about the happy ending.
According to the police report, McDonough, 70, a Whirlpool Corp. employee, left work Friday morning because he wasn’t feeling well. His supervisor noted that McDonough didn’t look good and offered to call an ambulance, which he declined.
McDonough’s vehicle was seen driving southbound on M-63, and he then swerved into the northbound lanes, hit a guardrail and bounced back into the southbound lanes. Among those there was Mike Garey, mayor of St. Joseph, who with others stopped.
One of those was Christopher Martin, who has been an EMT and firefighter with the Clay Fire Department in South Bend for 20 years.
It was another coincidence that Martin was even on that stretch of highway at that time.
Martin and his wife and kids were visiting their chalet in Stevensville, and decided to drive to Holland, which typically would have meant traveling on the interstate. But they decided to stop at Silver Beach so Martin could get in some miles running in preparation for an upcoming half-marathon. Afterward, they headed out of town on M-63.
Martin saw the car in the middle of the road and found the man slumped over the wheel, and he and others called 911. The doors were locked, but a bystander had a pocket knife with an attachment to punch out the window, and they freed McDonough from the vehicle.
Martin has responded to many incidents of cardiac arrest and knew he had to act quickly, and began CPR.
“With things like this, things get done very fast,” Martin said.
In another fortunate set of circumstances, officers Weaver and Alsup were nearby when they received the call from Berrien dispatch, with Weaver on the scene in less than a minute. While Martin continued CPR, Weaver applied an automatic defribrilator to shock McDonough’s heart. When Alsup arrived, he used a breathing bag until the Medic One ambulances arrived.
It turned out that one member of the team on the ambulance was someone Martin had helped train.
“Everyone jumped in to help,” Garey said. “No one had to tell anyone what to do. Everybody knew their role immediately.”
The officers took over traffic control. Within a couple of minutes Weaver saw that McDonough was breathing again and his pulse had been restored.
“I felt relieved,” Weaver said, knowing how rare such a recovery actually is.
He said it also was lucky that McDonough’s vehicle had not hit any other cars or pedestrians along the busy bridge.
McDonough woke up in the hospital with no recollection of the attack or the accident.
McDonough’s wife, Suzanne, agreed that it was a miracle that all the circumstances came together to save her husband’s life.
“I cried,” when she heard the story. “I can’t believe how fortunate we are.”
Speaking from the hospital, McDonough said the first thing he said to his wife when he woke up was “I love you.” When he was told what actually happened, his response was a bit more colorful.
McDonough has worked for Whirlpool for about five years, writing instructional manuals. He is active with the Southwest Michigan Steelheaders and their Salmon in the Classroom project, building fish tanks and working with area students.
“It was a team effort,” Weaver said of the Good Samaritans, officers, medical techs and Lakeland ER staff who took care of the patient.
St. Joseph Public Safety Director Steve Neubecker said he is preparing lifesaving awards for those involved.
The unexpected connections just kept coming.
When Weaver told the McDonoughs his name, the couple smiled. They have a son named Jared, they told him.
Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak