HCMH Saved PatientPhysicians, Nurses At Hawkins County Memorial, EMS Crew Restore Patient's Heartbeat After 109 Minutes

David Hillard had one foot in death’s door and was about to land the second on New Year’s Day when physicians and nurses at Hawkins County Memorial Hospital and paramedics at Hawkins County EMS pulled him back among the living.

The challenges they faced – a man without a pulse for 109 minutes and a forehead temperature of 72 degrees – made the successful outcome even more gratifying. The length of time is potentially a national record.

So when Hillard climbed out of his vehicle on Saturday, Jan. 12, at Hawkins County Memorial to thank those who saved his life, nurses and paramedics struggled to contain their emotions. He credited God with giving them the skills they needed to give him another chance to live.

“I can’t thank you all enough,” said Hillard, who hugged assembled nurses, paramedics, emergency medical technicians and law enforcement. “I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

These caregivers go to work every day knowing someone’s life might be in their hands, but this case stands out.

“We often save lives, but in these cases, we typically have a good feeling at the outset that the patient will survive,” said Beth Mann, a registered nurse at Hawkins County Memorial. “There was no good feeling at the beginning of this case.

“I’ve had patients thank me for the care I’ve provided, and I’ve also had their family members express their appreciation. But in my 19 years as a nurse, I have never had a patient who should be dead considering his circumstances and was essentially dead when he arrived at the hospital come back to say thank you. I was overwhelmed and in disbelief that he was able to come back and see us.”

Mann was part of a group of five who treated Hillard in the emergency department’s trauma room. The others were Dr. Jim Bowden and registered nurses Meredith Broome, Tammy Ward and Josh Davis.

“This was sensational teamwork by our emergency department co-workers and the emergency medical services professionals in the field to save this young man,” said Greg Neal, Hawkins County Memorial’s president. “They are a tribute to their professions, and all of us are blessed to have them deliver the utmost in compassionate care to their patients. The community really benefits from having such dedicated medical providers so close to home.”

Leaders of the hospital and Wellmont Health System, as well as EMS providers, will try to determine whether the 109 minutes Hillard went without a pulse is a national record.

The high-quality care Hillard received at Hawkins County Memorial is consistent with national recognition the hospital has received. In 2011, CareChex, a national ratings agency, selected Hawkins County Memorial among the top 10 percent in the country for overall hospital care, medical care and surgical care in the patient satisfaction category. The hospital also placed in the top 10 percent nationally for overall medical care in the medical excellence category.

Wayne Elam, paramedic supervisor with Hawkins County EMS, said Hillard had been lying in a culvert and in water near his Bulls Gap residence for about 14 hours. When the EMS crew arrived, they medically induced a coma in Hillard so they could intubate him.

As they began the ride to the hospital, Hillard went into cardiac arrest. Hawkins County EMS attempted to restore his heart beat with medications and CPR and tried to warm his body with heating pads, hot packs and warm intravenous fluids during his 15-minute ride to the hospital.

When he arrived, nurses and physicians performed CPR and defibrillated his heart 15 times. They also warmed his body with a special blanket and gave Hillard warm saline and warm IV fluids.

Mann saw a beat in Hillard’s carotid artery 109 minutes after he entered cardiac arrest, setting off a brief, but joyous, celebration.

“We high-fived each other and said this is amazing, but then we got into the mode of maintaining the beat we had,” she said. “We were still worried he would lose the beat again and he would die.”

But soon it became clear he was going to survive and the next concern was that Hillard would be brain dead. Mann remembers looking at his eyes, which were glazed and nonreactive.

Hillard, whose temperature rose to 84.9 degrees, was transferred to Holston Valley Medical Center for additional care and remained unresponsive for three days. Elam accidentally discovered Hillard had become responsive when he called Holston Valley to check on Hillard’s condition and received a room number.

“I called and David actually answered the phone,” Elam said. “You can’t even describe it because it was so amazing. Neither of us knew what to say.”

Patti Davis, an emergency medical technician, said it was even more stunning when she later learned he was walking and talking without any effect on his brain.

Hillard, who remembers nothing about the experience prior to waking up at Holston Valley, was released from the hospital on Friday, Jan. 11, but still has some follow-up medical care. His family contacted Elam to arrange the reunion with his caregivers.

“Seeing David visit us just reminds me why we entered this line of work,” Elam said. “It puts everything in proper perspective for me.”