New Year's Day will always hold a special place in David Hillard's life. That was the day his friends discovered him unconscious and unresponsive in a watery ravine, where he had been lying for more than 14 hours.
It was also the day a dedicated team of healthcare professionals brought him back from the brink of near-certain death.
From the very start of his rescue, responders with Hawkins County EMS were faced with challenges. The crew had trouble reaching the ravine and had to rely on the assistance of a neighbor, who pulled their ambulance with a tractor. Once they reached Hillard, he was barely clinging to life, with a body temperature of 72 degrees.
Within minutes of being loaded into the ambulance, Hillard went into cardiac arrest. The EMS team attempted to restore his heartbeat with medications and CPR, and they tried to warm his body during his ride to Hawkins County Memorial Hospital.
Once there, Hillard's condition - already precarious - became dire, and hospital staff had to defibrillate his heart 15 times.
Beth Mann, a registered nurse at Hawkins County Memorial, worked on Hillard the entire 109 minutes he was in cardiac arrest. When the team finally saw a pulse, they set into a brief, but certainly joyous, celebration.
"We high-fived each other, but then we got into the mode of maintaining the beat," she said. "We were still worried he would die."
It soon became clear Hillard was going to survive, but his caregivers were still worried he may never fully regain consciousness. Mann looked into his eyes, which had glazed over.
Hillard was transferred to Holston Valley Medical Center but remained unconscious for three more days. Wayne Elam, paramedic supervisor with Hawkins County EMS, first discovered Hillard had become responsive when he called Holston Valley to check on his condition, and his call was transferred to the room.
"David actually answered the phone," Elam said. "I can't even describe how it felt - it was so amazing. No one knew what to say."
Hillard was released from the hospital 10 days later, but he still hadn't met the people who first saved his life. After his family arranged an emotional reunion with his caregivers, Hillard credited God with giving them the skills necessary to give him another chance to live.
"Seeing David visit us just reminds me why we entered this line of work," Mann said. "It puts everything in proper perspective."