Heart attack survivor was one of rescuers trying to save fatal heart attack victim

Joe Ervin

As Joe Ervin worked with other first responders Saturday trying unsuccessfully to save the life of Duane O’Nele after he suffered an apparent heart attack, Ervin couldn’t help but think of how close he had come to having a fatal heart attack himself. 

Ervin, a member of the Timber Knob Volunteer Fire Department, was helping clean up a work site last October after he and 15 to 20 other firefighters and medical first responders had finished a session of emergency vehicle-extrication training in Theodosia when he first felt a cramp in his shoulder.   

Then he became nauseous, and his back started hurting. By then he and other Timber Knob firefighters were heading home from Theodosia. “Then I started dry heaving,” Ervin said Sunday. 

The firefighters stopped at a gas station along Highway 160, “and I was rolling on the grass in pain,” he said. 

Timber Knob VFD chief Nancy Winslow noticed how much Ervin was sweating and mentally added that to his other symptoms. “I think you’re having a heart attack,” she told him. 

Ervin is 36 – too young for a heart attack, surely.

“Nancy was on the phone real fast, calling Air Evac,” he  said. 

He was transported to Baxter Regional Medical Center in Mountain Home, Arkansas, where quickly administered tests showed he had 100 percent and 85 percent blockages in two of his heart’s blood vessels. 

“They said I flat-lined twice – once while they were prepping me for the stints and another time during the procedure,” he said. “They defibbed me, and I made it. But the doctor told me if I’d gotten to him 10 minutes later, it probably would have been too late.”

Ervin would never have considered himself at risk for a heart attack at age 36. But it happened. The problem, he said, was apparently “bad cholesterol, but I didn’t know it.”

Working with the other emergency responders Saturday as they tried to save Duane O’Nele, Ervin was reminded again of how close to had come to dying of a heart attack too. And he was reminded again of how thankful he is to be alive.

Ozark County Times

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