A look at what makes King County so successful in saving cardiac patients

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Bellevue paramedic John Tetzlaff poses with his Triple Crown Award for saving three lives in one month. (Chris Sullivan/KIRO Radio) | Zoom
King County is one of the best places in the world to have a heart attack. The survival rate in King County is 55 percent. The national survival rate is 8 percent.

What makes us so different? The public is better trained and more willing to help, and we have great paramedics.

Scott Packwood is one of the many King County survivors. He was having lunch at a Bellevue Thai restaurant when he started feeling odd.

"I felt kind of woozy, and I had yellow spots suddenly come in my eyes," he said. "It was a very strange experience."

Seconds later, he collapsed at his table. Fortunately for him, Bellevue Fire Chaplain Mike Ryan was eating at the next table. He'd never had to use CPR before, but he was trained.

"He got the best of what I had," Ryan said. "I'm sure he was sore the next day, but I knew the cavalry was coming and my goal was to keep that blood moving as long as I could."

For four minutes, Ryan worked to exhaustion compressing 42-year-old Packwood's chest until paramedics arrived and were able to shock his heart back to life.

"I realize what a small window of time I really had," Packwood said. "I think about that all the time. Him reacting so fast was just crucial and amazing."

Packwood is not the exception. More than half of heart attack victims in King County are brought back to life, and most don't suffer permanent damage because the care comes quickly, and it's effective.

Bellevue's John Tetzlaff was honored this week as the first paramedic in the nation to ever save three cardiac patients in one month.

"I feel like Forrest Gump sometimes just at the right place at the right time," he said. "The A.L.S. (advanced life saving) providers in King County. We just make it possible. I don't know how to wrap my mind around it. I feel very lucky and very humbled to have the job that I have and an opportunity to help people."

Tetzlaff credits his success on his training, his co-workers and the willingness of the public to become trained in CPR, and the willingness to use it. In one of his saves, which came at a North Bend golf course, the victim's friends were performing CPR when he arrived. He believes that was just as vital to saving the man's life.

"I do love my job," Tetzlaff said. "The award is nice, but I don't know what to say I guess. I'm honored. It's a privilege."

And since Tetzlaff's rare accomplishment last year, there has only been one other paramedic in the nation to record three saves in a month.

That paramedic is also from King County.


Chris Sullivan, KIRO Radio Reporter
Chris loves the rush of covering breaking news and works hard to try to make sense of it all while telling stories about real people in extraordinary circumstances.
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