Pembroke — Bob Cotnam is all smiles following a very close call this spring and credits much of his joy to the quick response of three bystanders who immediately intervened when his truck went off the road, performed CPR and ministered to him until the ambulance arrived a short nine minutes later.
“The fact that I had such good outcome was because I had such prompt attention that day,” he said. “These guys were on the work crew and they came to help. If I had been without oxygen for nine minutes before the ambulance arrived, my quality of life would have been very different.”
The men are Jamie Wilson and Cody Turner of H&H Construction of Pembroke and Chris Theriault, who works for the engineering firm working on the project. Mr. Cotnam just calls them heroes and they were among those honoured when the family held a “Heroes Party” recently, just three months after the 80-year-old went into cardiac arrest while driving across to Quebec.
“We talked about what to do and decided to have a heroes party for those who helped me in those first minutes,” he said. “You can’t be without oxygen very long and it starts to affect you.”
Other heroes were on scene were paramedics Elliott Garcia and Derek Loach who were there in nine minutes and used a defibrillator repeatedly to start his heart again, he added.
“They used the paddles three times,” he said.
May 28, the day he went into cardiac arrest began rather incongruously. Mr. Cotnam said he had gone in to do a test for his drivers license which older drivers are required to do and passed this. He was feeling well and had had lunch and a short nap.
“I decided to take my four-wheeler to Chapeau to have it looked at,” he said.
While he was crossing the bridge to Quebec on Highway 148, he came upon the construction crew working on the project.
“The guy had flagged me down and then I veered off into the guardrail,” he said. “I had dropped down in the truck and they saw that.”
The three men immediately ran to his assistance, he said. When they saw he was unconscious, they removed him from the truck and began to administer CPR, and called 911.
“Two of them had taken the CPR course and one had taken it just that spring,” he said.
The Cotnams have a cottage just down the road so someone passing by recognized the truck and immediately alerted his wife. The ambulance arrived quickly after the call to 911.
“They had me at the hospital where a team was waiting and then I was transferred to the heart institute,” he said.
Mr. Cotnam does not remember much of what happened then, but family told him he was in a medically-induced coma for a week while his blood was cooled. He remained at the Ottawa Heart Institute for four weeks and then was home for a short stint before going to cardiac rehab in Ottawa.
As part of the procedures, he had a total of five stints put in two arteries.
He considers himself a very lucky man.
“If this had happened a mile down the road, I don’t know what would have happened. I might have taken the ditch or hit another car.”
As he begins his recovery he is walking and continuing rehab in Pembroke. It was the doctor there, Dr. Casey Lee, who suggested he make his story public about the bystanders who played such a crucial role in saving his life, and the quick response of paramedics with the defibrillator.
“He looked at my chart and told me I should make this public,” he said.
The lack of oxygen following the cardiac arrest can have devastating lasting consequences.
“I am so grateful for the prompt care,” Mr. Cotnam said. “I saw others at the rehab, and who knows how long they were before someone found them. It was fortuitous I had someone there.”
He said the paramedics told him the CPR was crucial in those early minutes.
“Sometimes the paddles don’t work because there is no current,” he said. “After a certain amount of time there is no current. It was a miracle really these guys were there with CPR.”
Today his life is back to normal in many ways. He is driving again, playing cards and on a short trip with his wife.
Mr. Cotnam’s wife, Sharon and family are also very grateful for this quick intervention and wanted the public to know how bystanders saved his life in an age when some people choose not to get involved, and the 911 system worked so well.
“It is unbelievable,” Mrs. Cotnam said. “We are just in awe of these three men being at the construction site right then. Without them he would not be here today.”
This early intervention made the difference, she believes.
“We are extremely grateful especially to them,” she said. “And the following procedures which all contributed to his recovery.
“I’m still reeling from how well everything went and that we have my husband with us here,” she said.
Mr. Cotnam said he truly believes it is a miracle and attributes the intervention of those bystander heroes with saving his life, the speedy response of the paramedics and the moves to have him transferred to Ottawa quickly.
“The doctor in Ottawa told me if I was a cat, I would have six lives still,” he joked. “I would say CPR saved my life. I feel well and without CPR I might not be alive.”
911 Worked Well
Fred Blackstein, who lives just 900 metres down the road, also responded to the scene in what can only be called a precipitous sequence of events, which he traces back to the bringing in of the 911 system in Renfrew County.
“It is a fascinating story in terms of how well the 911 system worked and it is all tied back to the plowing match of 25 years ago,” he said.
Before the 1994 International Plowing Match, there was no 911 system in the county and it was through the surplus of the IPM that funding was in place to bring in civic addressing and the 911 system.
“And the Cotnam Farm and Bob and Sharon were very much a part of the plowing match,” he said. “They were major contributors to the success of this event which brought about the 911 system which saved his life many years later.”
For when the construction workers called 911, not only were paramedics notified to respond to the scene, but the H&H workers were told there was a defibrillator less than a kilometre away at the Blackstein home.
“So a truck from H&H came racing into my driveway asking me to bring the defibrillator,” he said. “We raced to the scene but when we arrived the paramedics had arrived so I did not use the defibrillator.”
Just how Mr. Blackstein came about having a defibrillator is another of the success stories of 911 and also a tribute to the local paramedic service, its leadership and the focus on defibrillators.
“Mike Nolan (the chief paramedic for the County of Renfrew) is the most progressive paramedic commander in the province,” he said.
The men were well acquainted because of Mr. Blackstein’s work as the leader of the civilian search and rescue team, he explained.
“And Nolan said every time there is trouble I am there, so he said I should be outfitted with proper equipment,” he said, pointing out he received a defibrillator to carry with him in his truck. “So now I am an honorary or associate paramedic.”
The fact the 911 dispatcher knew there was a defibrillator at his address shows how well the system works, which is extremely gratifying for Mr. Blackstein.
He also stressed the defibrillator is a vital tool which did save Mr. Cotnam.
“He was brought back by our paramedics,” he said. “There are so many interesting threads to this, but when the dust is settled, the paramedics saved his life.
“When H&H called 911 the dispatcher told him to get me with the AED and we were racing back to the scene. If the paramedics had been two minutes later, I would have had a significant role with the defibrillator,” he said.
The importance of defibrillators cannot be overstressed, and Chief Nolan has been extremely progressive in making sure defibrillators are found throughout the county, he said.
“I’m comfortable saying there are more AEDs (defibrillators) in Renfrew County per capita than anywhere else,” he said.
Defibrillators save lives, Mr. Blackstein said.
“And the Renfrew County paramedic services is the most aggressive in getting AEDs out in the county,” he said. “In this case, we saw how everything worked so well for Bob.”