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'Pretty much a miracle'
Morrow man thanks paramedics for quick response, saving his life

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

Two months ago, on a Sunday afternoon, five strangers saved John Clement's life.

This morning, sitting in his easy chair, petting the terrier in his lap as the sun slides through his living room window, John says he doesn't know how to say how grateful he is.

He had a heart attack, the kind they call a "widow maker." Five paramedics from Clayton County Fire Station No. 8 responded to his 911 call in under five minutes, and their quick response time helped save his life.

He is 49 years old, and he thinks he wouldn't still be here today, if it weren't for Lt. Dwayne Casteel, Sgt. Jeff Greene, Derek Haynie, Chris Simpson and Tyler Kelley.

He tried to tell the paramedics, he tried to say thank you so they understood how much he meant it, but they just deferred and said he didn't have to thank them. They were just doing their job.

"They were very humble," John Clement said. "They were, like, stunned anybody would stop to thank them. They said, 'It's no big deal.' Well, it's a big deal to me."

John's wife, Andrea Clement, said they just can't say enough about the paramedics.

"It was pretty much a miracle," she said.

It happened on a Sunday afternoon, coming home from a family barbecue, and John thought he had heart burn. Then he felt sick, turned pale and vomited.

It looked like "coffee grounds and blood," according to Andrea.

"The whole time," she says, "he's saying don't call 911, it's probably just food poisoning."

"I thought it was heartburn," John says, "but she called them anyway."

They came through the front door and up the stairs of the couple's brick, split-level home in less than five minutes. They found John in the bedroom, laying down, knew what they were seeing and responded immediately.

One did chest compressions, one ran the artificial respiration. One hooked up the EKG machine to read the electrical pulses of his heart just in time to see it seize up in mid-attack, the graph spiking on the chart. One prepared the IV and the fifth one had the electro-shock paddles ready.

"It was just amazing," Andrea said. "Absolutely amazing."

It's quiet, inside the Clement home, but Andrea, thinking of that day two months ago, remembers John was just screaming.

"It was excruciating," he said. "It felt like a burning sensation in my chest -- it wasn't like the classic heart attack signs, where they say you're left arm tingles. It was burning, and then almost like someone was squeezing. Like someone was grabbing right on my heart, and squeezing."

The cardiologist at Southern Regional Medical Center told the Clements the quick response from the men at Station No. 8 helped to save John's life.

According to the American Heart Association statistics, if an ambulance reaches a heart attack victim within five minutes, the chances of survival are about 50 percent. Chances of survival drop by about 10 percent with every passing minute, and after 10 minutes, the AMA finds the survivability rate drops to near zero.

In Clayton County, the emergency medical services department has been pushing to improve its response time, Chief Alex Cohilas said. The best average response time in the county, is about six minutes and 52 seconds, a 22 second improvement on the best average time from 2006.

With a new fire station and three more ambulances, Cohilas expects to soon "see a dramatic drop all across the board," he says.

Cohilas said the Clements are an example of why the department works so hard to lower that response time, the five paramedics who were their that day will remember that 911 call their entire careers.

"This is a memory they will carry with them," the chief said. "It means a lot when someone expresses gratitude. It's our duty to largely labor in anonymity. We don't do it for money. We don't do it for fame. You have to have a calling."

John still seems a little stunned that these men -- strangers -- saved his life. He wrote them a letter, for the official record and for the men's files, trying to say how thankful he was.

He wrote, "Because of their dedication, determination and kindness, along with God's immeasurable grace, I am still here today."