NICHOLASVILLE — Andy Sims is filled with gratitude, and he wants others to know it.
One day last month, as the prosecutor presented a case for possible indictment to a grand jury, Sims, 36, suddenly collapsed and fell to the floor.
But thanks to the quick responses of people in and around the Jessamine County Courthouse, Sims, who had no pulse and had turned blue, was kept alive until emergency responders arrived on the scene. They rushed him to a Nicholasville medical center and later to St. Joseph Hospital in Lexington.
Had it not been for ordinary folks who jumped into action before the professionals arrived, "I don't think I would have made it to Lexington alive," Sims said. "All these things that other people say were coincidences I say were miracles."
Or as Jessamine Circuit Court Clerk Doug Fain puts it: "God put the right people at the right place at the right time."
Sims is an assistant commonwealth's attorney for Jessamine and Garrard counties. A former basketball player for Henry Clay High School and Transylvania University, he's maintained his athletic physique. He is 6-foot-6 and 235 pounds, watches what he eats, and works out regularly at Tammcor Fitness gym in Nicholasville.
On June 6, Sims was presenting his last case of the morning to the grand jury, a panel of 12 people who meet behind closed doors to determine whether there is evidence to indict someone for a criminal offense.
To the horror of the grand jurors and a witness, Sims fell to the floor without warning.
"It was a total face plant," Sims said. "The grand jurors say they thought I lost my breath because I put my hands on my knees, like you're winded, and from there it was a face plant on the ground."
The fall caused a long vertical gash across his forehead, and Sims was bleeding. The stunned grand jurors could tell he wasn't breathing. One juror, a woman, ran from the room calling for help.
Meanwhile, across Main Street from the courthouse, BJ Preston and her husband, Mark, were in the office of Nicholasville lawyer Adam Zeroogian. BJ, a radiology technician at St. Joseph Jessamine, heard a commotion as people gathered on the courthouse lawn. BJ said she heard someone yell "He's down! He's down!" Initially, she thought some court proceeding had gotten out of control, but then she heard someone say "We need CPR!"
With that, Preston took off her high-heeled shoes — "I could never have run in my heels," she said later — and ran barefoot across Main Street, which was clear of traffic. That was odd in itself, because downtown Nicholasville is normally lined bumper-to-bumper with vehicles, especially as the lunch hour approaches.
David Thomas, another Nicholasville lawyer outside the courthouse, also went to the grand jury room, and witnesses said he performed chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth on Sims in an attempt to revive the young prosecutor. (Thomas declined to be interviewed on the record except to say Sims "was dead and now he's alive, and we're better off for it.")
BJ Preston said when she arrived in the room, she found Sims "lying flat on his back and was as blue as could be." She began chest compressions, too.
"I straddled him just like a horse," Preston said. "And he's a big, fit guy, and I weigh 110 pounds, and I had to give him everything I had."
Postal carrier Shawn Baldwin, whose delivery route includes downtown, also came to the room. He said when he entered he saw Thomas blowing breath into Sims' mouth while Preston, straddling the prosecutor, compressed his chest. Baldwin said he knelt, felt for a pulse in the neck, and quietly counted the compressions.
"I asked her if she needed relief and she said, no, she had it," Baldwin said.
Fain, meanwhile, had instructed the grand jurors to leave the room and go upstairs to the circuit courtroom. Before they went upstairs, the jurors formed a circle, bowed their heads, and prayed for the young man they'd just seen collapse.
When the emergency medical technicians arrived, they began attempts to revive Sims with electric shocks from external defibrillator paddles. By this time Sims had been lying on the floor for several minutes, and Fain, a licensed embalmer who once worked at a Nicholasville funeral home, was losing hope.
"I continued to watch the ambulance squad work on him and — I'll just be honest, and I've told Andy this — I thought he was gone," Fain said. "I just knew by looking at him that the boy was gone. He was just lifeless — eyes rolled back and just nothing. He was so bad that at that time, I shut the door to the courtroom because I honestly thought they're going to have to call the coroner."
Doctors later told Sims that he had experienced "sudden cardiac death." It's not a heart attack, which happens when there is a blockage in one or more arteries to the heart. Instead, sudden cardiac death occurs when the electrical system to the heart malfunctions and suddenly becomes very irregular. The heart beats dangerously fast. The ventricles may flutter or quiver, and blood is not delivered to the body. In the first few minutes, the greatest concern is that blood flow to the brain will be reduced so drastically that a person will lose consciousness. Death follows unless emergency treatment begins immediately.
Sims said he remembers waking up in St. Joseph Hospital in Lexington with so many tubes sticking out of his body, "I looked like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix."
A defibrillator was inserted under the skin of his left upper chest. The device is programmed to detect a problem with the heart and to deliver a jolt of electricity to shock it back into a normal beat.
The scary part is that doctors can't say why the episode happened in the first place. And they don't know if it will happen again.
In any case, here's what Sims knows: He is thankful for the people who were there to help.
"I gave Dave a hug, and I've given BJ a hug. But that doesn't suffice for saving somebody's life," he said. "I'll try to live my life in service to this community. It makes me love the community even more. And it makes me want to spend the rest of my life serving them."
Sims came back to work in late June. He said the experience reaffirms his Christian faith, but unlike other near-death experiences recounted by others, he doesn't remember "seeing a light."
"All the questions of the universe could have been revealed to me and I don't remember anything," he said, "because of the pain medication I was on when I was being stabilized at the hospital."
Sims also said the episode will not affect his job should he have a case opposing Thomas, a trial lawyer who sometimes represents defendants charged in criminal cases.
"Here's the funny thing: The only trial I've ever lost — and you can print this, too; the only trial I ever plan on losing — was to Dave," Sims said, laughing.
"Now he's beaten me and saved my life. But he does his job and I do mine. I owe him a lot for saving my life, but I also owe him one for beating me in the only trial I've ever lost."
When that quote was read back to him, Thomas responded: "That clearly shows that he's back. The old Andy is 100 percent back."
Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305.Twitter: @HLpublicsafety