Angels among us
Published 5:13 pm Friday, March 24, 2023
SUNBURY – Walter Felton will remember Nov. 8, 2022 for the rest of his time here on Earth. It was the day the 52-year-old Williamsburg, VA man nearly died from cardiac arrest.
He survived to tell his story and to meet the total strangers who rushed to his side that day.
Felton was visiting his aunt, Myrtle Etheridge, on the family farm in Gates County. He had made that trip dozens of times…taking his aunt out to eat or to accompany her as she shopped for groceries.
“I was feeling good that day,” Felton recalled, adding that he had no previous issues with his heart. “All of a sudden I began to feel a little wobbly-legged as I came down the stairs. I remember making the turn at the bottom of the stairs and that’s it. The next thing I remember is waking up three days later in Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. I thought I was dreaming. Why was I there?”
After learning that answer from the hospital staff, Felton began to realize just how fortunate he was to be alive.
“I was dead for seven-to-eight minutes. [Doctors] told me that only seven percent of people who are without a pulse for that length of time recover to the point I’m at today…with all my faculties,” Felton noted. “There are others that recovered from the same medical scenario, but the majority of them lost memory or motor skills. I didn’t lose any of that. The doctors told me how lucky I am.”
Felton was hospitalized for 10 days, which included surgery to fix the problem that caused his cardiac arrest. He plans to return to work at a plumbing supply company upon his medical release.
While some may think that the level of emergency medical care falls dramatically in a rural environment, Felton can testify to the contrary. He counts his blessings each and every day that he was in the right place at the right time to suffer a medical emergency and he shared his feelings on March 6 at the Sunbury Fire Station where the local and regional first responders from the Nov. 8 event gathered for lunch.
Among those present was Cameron Butts, a 10-year paramedic. She was just down the road from where Felton lay motionless and was perhaps close to meeting his maker.
“God had me in the right place that day. I was about a mile and a half away, picking up my daughter, Presley, at a neighbor’s house,” Butts recalled. “His aunt drove up and said her nephew was down and unresponsive. She had no way of knowing I was at that house. She just saw vehicles in the driveway and knew someone was there and could perhaps offer assistance.”
Butts said she grabbed her daughter, jumped in her car, and raced to the location of the medical emergency. En route she called 9-1-1.
“When I got there, he was not breathing and had no pulse,” Butts said. “I called 9-1-1 again to share that information and then immediately started CPR.
“That lasted for 10-to-12 minutes until Stormy [Butts, Chief of Gates County Rescue and EMS] got there. From that point we were able to switch places performing CPR until the EMS unit arrived,” she added.
Brandon Melton of the Hobbsville Volunteer Fire Department and Stacy Kronbauer of the Gates County Sheriff’s Office also rushed to the scene to provide assistance.
Cameron Butts added that time is critical when it comes to a person suffering a heart attack.
“The longer you go without performing CPR, the chances are greater that they will not survive,” she said. “In this particular case, I’m estimating that from the time his aunt saw him fall out until I first put my hand on his chest was four-to-five minutes. All I did was to bridge the gap until an EMS unit could get on the scene with all the equipment needed in this case.”
Once that happened, Felton was hooked to a heart monitor and defibrillator as well as being administered medication to stabilize his condition.
Dawn Abbott was the primary dispatcher that November day for Gates County E-911. She recalled it was extremely busy as far as the number of calls requesting EMS.
“We had 18 EMS calls that day, all of them were significant medical emergencies. Brandon [Melton] just happened to be in the Dispatch Center that day, visiting us. When he heard there was someone in cardiac arrest and CPR was being administered, he was gone in a flash.”
Due to the high call volume that day, Gates County requested mutual aid from Hertford County EMS to assist with the Felton call. The Hertford County ambulance arrived at the same time that a Gates County EMS unit was able to clear one call and make their way to the Felton call.
Melton was behind the wheel of the Gates County EMS unit that drove Felton to the Suffolk Municipal Airport where Nightingale Air Ambulance landed to pick him up for the flight to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital.
“I’ve never driven that fast through Whaleyville (VA, en route to Suffolk),” Melton said.
Scott McClain was the paramedic onboard Nightingale that day.
“We pride ourselves on speed, obviously, but we also give a high level of medical care. We can do pretty much everything that is done in an emergency room at a hospital,” McClain said.
By the time Felton was placed into the care of the Nightingale crew, McClain said they replaced his breathing tube, sedated him, and placed him on a ventilator.
“It takes a huge team to gain an outcome like this,” McClain noted. “Everything that was done prior to him being handed off to us probably saved his life. All we did was get him to the hospital quicker so it could be determined what caused him to go into cardiac arrest.”
Also onboard that day was Dr. Lori Givonetti, Medical Director for Nightingale. Givonett said she makes it a practice to join with different flight crews at least once a month.
“It’s always very comforting to have her knowledge and skills to fall back on,” McClain said of Dr. Givonett, who was quick to reply, “They are trained and highly skilled, they know what to do.”
Lisa Scott was the nurse onboard to help care for Felton as the helicopter made the short flight to the hospital.
Abbott said first responders do not typically know the outcome of a call they’re on.
“When a patient is delivered to their destination, we do not know how things end,” she said. “It’s humbling to me to meet Mr. Felton. We don’t do this job for the recognition, but it’s nice to see how this particular call ended. Everybody here today was all hands on deck for him that day, and they would do it again.”
“Angels are all around us,” Felton stressed. “Just the way the events of that day fell together is incredible. The people here are so loving and kind; they are highly trained and skilled at what they do. Because of these guys and gals here in Gates County that helped to save my life, I’ve made some changes in my life so I can help others.”
Felton said he’s been given a second chance in life and plans to make the most of it.
“I’m here for a reason,” he stressed. “I plan to move to Gates County sometimes in the future.”
Felton donated $5,000 from a family trust fund to Gates County EMS for them to use at their discretion.
Additionally, the American Heart Association plans to present awards to all the emergency responders that took part in saving Felton’s life.