Sandee Smith and her husband of 40 years, Jack Smith, made a point of spending the afternoon of May 21 at the Pleasant Township Fire Department on Norton Road.

It was a joyous occasion, much different from the last time the couple stopped by the fire station.

On Feb. 2, Sandee Smith headed to the department's station as she was driving on state Route 665, taking her husband, who was suffering a heart attack, to the Mount Carmel emergency room in Grove City.

"I looked over and saw that he was limp and was responsive," she said. "I felt -- I knew -- that he was dead. I knew the fire department wasn't too far away, so I ran some stop signs and got there as soon as I could."

By the time she pulled into the fire department's parking lot, Jack Smith was in full cardiac arrest.

The crew of firefighters on duty that day, which included Lt. Jeremy Johnson, Ryan Wihl, Josh Mollahan, Tim Reibel, Chad Story and Steve Campbell, were able to perform CPR on Smith and and shock his heart into rhythm before they transported him to Doctors West Hospital.

Today, Jack Smith, 72, describes himself "as doing really well," although he carries a LifeVest, a personal defibrillator worn by patients at risk for sudden cardiac arrest.

"If something goes wrong and my heart stops, it will give me a shock to get it going again," he said.

The Smiths, as well as their family members and friends, visited the fire station on May 21 to thank the firefighters for saving Jack Smith's life.

"I'm so grateful for what they did for me," he said. "I guess it wasn't my time yet. The Lord must have some other things he wants me to do."

"Most of us only think about firefighters putting out fires," Sandee Smith said.

"But they also save lives. We came here today to thank the Pleasant Township firefighters in person and serve them lunch as a small token of our appreciation for what they've done for our family," she said.

Jack Smith had called her on Feb. 2 from their home southwest of Grove City, complaining of chest pains, Sandee Smith said.

"I suggested that maybe we should call an ambulance, but he didn't want to do that," she said.

"I called my nephew, who is a firefighter with Prairie Township, and he said it sounded like he was having a heart attack and I should definitely get him to a hospital. I thought Mount Carmel's emergency room would be closest," she said.

When Sandee Smith arrived at the fire station, she "pounded on our door and rang our doorbell telling us her husband was having a heart attack," Johnson said.

"When we got out to him, it was obvious that he was in lethal cardiac arrest," he said.

The firefighters used a LUCAS Chest Compression System, a device that performs mechanical CPR.

"It can be really difficult to continue to perform CPR as you're transporting a patient first into your vehicle and then driving him to the hospital," Johnson said.

"It's really hard for the person who is applying the pressure to the chest to keep on it as the patient is being carried. And it's pretty difficult to keep performing CPR when you're wearing a safety belt in the back of an ambulance," he said.

When he and Mollahan first made contact with Mr. Smith, the patient was unresponsive with "very shallow breathing," Wihl said.

"We immediately started CPR and we ended up defibrillating him three times on the way to the hospital, shocking his heart into normal rhythm," he said.

"He was still in very serious condition when we arrived at the hospital. They were able to provide him with additional treatment there," he said.

The Smiths were fortunate to be so close to the fire department, Johnson said.

"If it had taken a few more minutes to get him to us, the outcome likely would have been different," he said.

Time is of the essence when a patient goes into cardiac arrest, Johnson said.

"Death will occur in less than 10 minutes if the heart has stopped and oxygen is not getting to the brain and lungs," he said. "If a few minutes goes by, the patient is likely to suffer severe brain damage, even if they survive."

Most patients do not survive sudden cardiac arrest, Johnson said.

"To see Mr. Smith up and around and doing so well given the condition he was in the last time we saw him, it's just a great feeling," he said.

"It feels good to know you've helped save someone's life," Wihl said. "But it all comes back to the training -- all the time and effort you put in to be ready to respond when you're needed."

"I imagine most of the time, people who have been treated by paramedics don't follow up to let them know how they are doing," Jack Smith said.

"We wanted to let these guys know their effort saved my life and to let them know we are grateful," he said.

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