BRISTOL, Va. – When Mike Montgomery felt nauseated, short of breath and with a heaviness in his chest while dining at his parents’ Old Airport Road home on March 3, his training as a 20-year city firefighter told him – instantly – that all was not well.

“I knew something was going on,” Montgomery said with a shake of his head. “And it wasn’t good.”

Fortunately, Montgomery is alive today — and able to recall the moment when he suffered a life-threatening heart attack — because of the Bristol Life Saving Crew, one of 29 local agencies that receive valuable funding from United Way of Bristol, which helps thousands of area residents each year.

On Friday, the United Way kicks off its annual regional fundraising campaign: this year, the agency’s theme is, “A Good Place to Give Makes a Better Place to Live.” The money raised will go out to community agencies that offer help to residents of all ages with different needs.

One of those agencies is the Bristol Life Saving Crew, a 51-member service largely made up of unpaid, highly-trained volunteers who save lives, comfort those in pain and respond to more than 300 emergency calls each month.

One of those calls came on the evening of March 3, when Travis Montgomery informed a BLSC unit, based inside a Bristol Virginia Fire Department station on Suncrest Drive, that older brother Mike had gone from happily eating a birthday meal of spaghetti and homemade sauce – to gravely ill in a matter of minutes.

“It felt like a car was sitting on my chest,” Mike Montgomery said. “It’s hard to convince yourself it’s happening to you. But the feeling wasn’t going away, it was getting worse.”

Within minutes, crew members – many of whom take extensive, regular medical training and courses on their own time – loaded Montgomery into an ambulance and began intense, preliminary medical treatment as the vehicle headed to Bristol Regional Medical Center.

But before the ambulance could reach the hospital, Montgomery had a second round of severe chest pains. Reacting quickly, crew members then used a state-of-the-art cardiac monitor, installed in their ambulance, to send data to BRMC staff alerting them that Montgomery was in extremely poor condition.

And, equally important, the data also let doctors know they needed to start preparing immediately to perform emergency measures on Montgomery — before the Bristol Life Saving Crew even arrived, moments later, at the hospital.

“Almost before the ambulance even came to a stop at Bristol Regional, they got me straight into a [cardiology] lab,” Montgomery said. “It was pretty amazing, what they did.”

And extremely timely, as well.

Doctors determined that Montgomery suffered a massive heart attack. In addition to having one artery that was 40 percent blocked and another that was at a 70 percent level, a third artery — one that carries blood to the lowest part of the heart — was 100 percent shut down.

“They call that artery, ‘the widow-maker,’” Montgomery says with a laugh. “Because when that lower [artery] is blocked, you don’t make it through a lot of the time.”

But Montgomery did make it through due largely to the Life Saving Crew, which has served a vital role in helping to ease the emergency-response burden on other public safety units like the city’s Fire Department.

“We work to do as much as we can, and the United Way’s financial support has absolutely been critical in helping us do that,” said Jean Eller, a BLSC official who, along with her husband, Buddy, has been a volunteer for decades.

“We don’t get much funding from communities, so the United Way has been so crucial in helping us bridge the gap between what we provide and what it costs,” Eller said. “We certainly do depend on their help, year after year, and we’re extremely grateful for it.”

And Montgomery, who remains on sick leave from his post as a lieutenant at the Fire Department, is just as grateful these days, as well.

“They definitely saved my life, there’s no question about it,” Montgomery said. “I’m lucky to be alive. And we’re really lucky as a community to have people like them, caring and giving as much as they do every day.”

By: Roger Brown
(276) 645-2512

Reprinted with Permission: Bristol Herald Courier, 8/15/2011

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