Girl, 14, whose heart stopped beating, recovers thanks to two off-duty firefighters

jwarren@herald-leader.comAugust 24, 2012 

STAMPING GROUND — Sue Noe remembers July 29 as just a lazy Sunday evening, but it's one she will never forget.

"I was helping our older daughter, Shelby, pack to go to Connecticut to start her first job," Noe said. "My husband, Sammy, and our younger daughter, Savannah, were out back in the swimming pool. Then, I heard Sammy screaming, and somehow I knew it was bad."

Noe ran outside to find that Savannah, 14, had collapsed and wasn't breathing, Her father was struggling to pull her out of the pool.

The Noes initially thought Savannah had swallowed water while swimming. They didn't realize that her heart had stopped beating.

It was the beginning of a 10-day nightmare for the Noe family that took Savannah to the very edge of death. But it ended happily with her back home and healthy, thanks in large part to two off-duty firefighters who raced to her rescue.

"We'll never be able to repay them," Sue Noe said last week. "Two off-duty guys, how awesome is that? That's going way over and beyond; that's two guys just being good people that saved my child's life."

Savannah remembers nothing of her ordeal, which included multiple electrical shocks to restore her heartbeat; being unconscious for days; and having doctors lower her body temperature to around 34 degrees Centigrade (about 93 degrees Fahrenheit) to prevent brain damage.

But amazingly she suffered no apparent physical or mental damage.

Now, she's back to being a freshman at Scott County High School, where relieved classmates give her hugs each day. The only hint of what Savannah went through is a small electrical device called an ICD, which doctors implanted in her chest, that can shock her heart back to normal if the problem ever happens again.

Savannah was struck down by sudden cardiac arrest, a condition that causes almost 300,000 deaths each year.

Dr. Anna Kamp, a pediatric electrophysiologist at the University of Kentucky who treated Savannah, credits her survival and dramatic recovery primarily to the timely CPR she received from firefighters Paul Goodman and Brad Polley.

Goodman, a captain with the Georgetown Fire Department, was at home on the evening of July 29. But as usual his home police scanner was turned on. When he heard an emergency dispatch about a possible drowning involving a 14-year-old girl, Goodman immediately recognized the address.

He lives two doors from the Noe family on Green Lane near Stamping Ground and has known them for years. He raced to their house.

Lt. Brad Polley of the Scott County Fire Department was at home in Stamping Ground, and he also was monitoring a scanner. Polley didn't know the Noe family. But their address was just three miles away, so he also headed for the scene.

Sue Noe said she and her husband were trying to roll Savannah onto her side when Goodman arrived, seemingly from nowhere.

"All of a sudden Paul was here," she said. "It was like he fell out of the sky. I don't know where he came from, I don't know how he got here. I'm just glad he did."

Polley, arriving moments later, checked Savannah's pulse.

She had none.

He and Goodman immediately began applying two-man CPR, Goodman forcing air into Savannah's lungs with a bag device, while Polley performed chest compressions to artificially pump blood through her body. They kept it up until an ambulance arrived.

The ambulance crew brought an automated external defibrillator, a medical device that can diagnose cardiac arrest and deliver an electrical shock to restore heartbeat. They gave Savannah two shocks at the pool, two more on the way to the hospital. Polley kept administering chest compressions as they carried Savannah to the ambulance on a stretcher.

After a stop at Georgetown Community Hospital, Savannah was rushed to the Kentucky Children's Hospital at the University of Kentucky, where the Noe family could only wait and pray while she was treated.

Three days after collapsing, Savannah suddenly regained consciousness, not realizing she was in the hospital or what had happened.

"She was kicking and trying to take out her ventilator and feeding tube," Sue Noe said. "They cleared me out of the room, and when I came in her bed was surrounded by doctors and nurses. They just kind of parted, and there was Savannah, sitting up in bed."

To the amazement of everyone, Savannah was soon up walking around the hospital, with doctors and nurses clapping and giving her high-fives, her mother said.

Polley and Goodman say they're equally amazed. Both have brought patients back from cardiac arrest before. But those patients were so badly injured they ultimately didn't survive.

"I've been in emergency services over 24 years, and in that time I've never seen such a recovery," Goodman said. "All I can say is that she is back because she was meant to come back."

Kamp says fast action by Goodman and Polley played a big role.

"I've told Savannah and her family that the reason she's back in school is that she had really good chest compressions," Kamp said. "If she'd had no chest compressions, her outcome would have been much grimmer."

All doctors can say is that Savannah's heart stopped beating because of some underlying electrical problem that had never surfaced before, and might never occur again.

Sudden cardiac arrest is rare in young people. But Kamp says she's treated four other Central Kentucky youngsters with the problem since last February. The list includes Benjamin Highland, a Fayette County middle school student who collapsed after a baseball tryout.

All five children were normal and healthy until they suddenly collapsed, according to Kamp.

"This is very, very unusual; I think it's kind of a fluke actually," she said. The one child who did not survive did not receive immediate CPR.

"What I tell parents is that everybody should know CPR," Kamp said. "That's what's saving these children."

All Sue Noe can say is that's she grateful to everybody, especially Goodman and Polley.

Polley calls Savannah "the high point" of his career. He says she's the first cardiac patient he's treated who has made a complete recovery. "To see her now, she's vibrant, she's beautiful, it's absolutely incredible," he said. "If I retire and never have to treat another patient, I will always remember this moment."

Jim Warren: (859) 231-3255.

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