National News

Stockbridge man thanks Henry County firefighters for saving his life

Posted August 8

— It happened just after 5:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning.

Matt and Jackie Millwood were alerted to a loud, metallic crunch. A young woman had crashed her vehicle into a neighbor's mailbox outside their Flat Rock Road home, and it looked like she needed help. Matt Millwood sprung into action, driving his own vehicle the 100 yards through his lawn, down to the wreckage. Her windshield had broken out, and Millwood was concerned she needed help to get out of the vehicle, so he started pulling on the glass.

The windshield wouldn't budge.

"I felt my chest going," Millwood said. "I noticed it was something severe."

It was a heart attack, a big one. A medical emergency paramedics and doctors commonly refer to as "the widowmaker." There was a 5 to 7 percent chance Millwood, 66, would survive the incident. But thanks to the quick action of the Henry County Fire Department, he beat the odds.

"I'm just really grateful. Something like that will make you think about things," Millwood said. Four months after the incident, Matt Millwood and his wife Jackie reached out to the Fire Department to meet the men and women who helped save Millwood's life. They gathered for a reunion at the fire administration building in McDonough Wednesday.

"These are men and women here that are skilled, trained and ready to serve at all times," Millwood said. "And they get up with courage to go to work every day, knowing what could happen."

Millwood is a father of five and grandfather of 19, and he credits the efforts of two firefighters in particular - Capt. Erik Schaefer and Firefighter/EMT William Smith - for allowing him more time with the people he loves.

"We train for this," said Schaefer, an 18-year department veteran. "It's just reassuring and reaffirming for us to hear somebody say thank you, because we don't hear that a lot. For me, it's a shot in the arm to go out today. It reinvigorates me."

Both Schaefer and Smith were presented with certificates of appreciation Wednesday for their life-saving efforts.

For the Stockbridge Station 11 crew members responding to the vehicle crash on April 2, it was "the perfect storm of a call." It's possible that had emergency medical technicians not already been on scene, if Jackie Millwood hadn't quickly flagged them down to help her husband, if Piedmont Henry Hospital cardiac unit staff had not just arrived for their shifts to rush Millwood into surgery, the outcome would have been grim.

Millwood had a 100 percent blockage in his main coronary artery resulting in sudden cardiac arrest. The same medical emergency is responsible for approximately 325,000 deaths in the U.S., according to the Fire Department.

"His angel was on his side," Jackie Millwood said. It was a miracle. "Even the girl that was in the wreck said that to him."

Nationally, similar patients have a 7 percent survival rate. The Henry County Fire Department has doubled those odds, with 14 percent of cardiac arrest patients surviving with neurological function intact.

Fire Department officials say that's due to extensive training and finely tuned protocols. The department is also the first fire agency in metro Atlanta to utilize the Zoll ResQCPR system, a CPR adjunct, which has greatly increased the survival rate in Henry County since its rollout in February of 2016.

"We get what is known as ROSC, or a return of spontaneous circulation, on over 60 percent of the cardiac arrests we transport," said Lt. Billy Petite, who analyzes data for the department. "This is in part due to the constant training, using the most advanced tools, and our advanced protocols which are based on the most up-to-date evidence-based medicine."

As for Millwood, his new lease on life has encouraged him to learn CPR and be at the ready to help others in need. He's also readying to welcome his 20th grandchild in a few weeks.

"You guys are heroes," he said to Fire Department staff. "If it wasn't for the training, the dedication, the service, I wouldn't be here. It might not mean much to a lot of people, but it means a whole lot to me. I'm not ready to go anywhere."

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