Heart attack victim reunited with first responders who saved his life

Heart attack victim reunited with first responders who saved his life
Ashley Garner suffered a heart attack in August. (Source: Ashley Garner)
Ashley Garner suffered a heart attack in August. (Source: Ashley Garner)

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - A man from Wilmington said he's lucky he was able to spend this Valentine's Day with his wife and two young kids.

On Aug. 14, Ashley Garner got home from a workout class and felt a pain in his chest.

The next thing he knew, he was on the kitchen floor and had gone into cardiac arrest from a massive heart attack.

"I got a tightness in my chest and I thought maybe I pulled a muscle or who knows what?" Garner said. "The last thing on my mind was what was actually happening.

"I remember actually Googling, 'What does it feel like to have a heart attack?' and reading about it and I still didn't think that was what was going on."

But that was exactly what was happening.

Garner's wife performed CPR and called 911. The crew that responded just happened to be on its way back to the station and close to Garner's house when the call came in.

Paramedics had to shock Garner three times with a defibrillator, which saved his life. He said thanking them was the least he could do.

"I just know that without all of the pieces that fell into place that day that I wouldn't be here and not one is more important than the other," Garner said. "The firemen and the first responders were certainly important because I just wouldn't have made it off the kitchen floor."

"We had to calm you down a couple of times," Master Fireman Andrew Zak said, recounting the day.

The firemen said they remember Garner and that day because of the positive outcome. They said they appreciate Garner and his wife coming in to thank them, but they were just doing their jobs.

"It makes you feel good," Captain George Storms said. "It makes all the parts of the job worthwhile."

"I think most people are in emergency services because they're trying to help people out, so when you have that validation or recognition, it's nice to know that what you're doing is making a difference in people's lives," Zak said.

Zak and Storms are part of the five-person crew that responded that day. The other fireman and two paramedics were not there for Garner's visit, but he said he'll be back to thank them in person too.

Garner brought in the shirt paramedics cut off of him that day and a Sharpie, asking them to sign it. He said he is going to frame it as a reminder of just how precious life is.

According to Garner, he didn't have any previous health issues, and doesn't have any family history of heart disease.

"I was always proud of the fact that when they asked for my medical history, that I could just say, 'I don't have any medical history' or 'I don't have any previous conditions or anything,'" he said.

He said he wishes he would have gotten a cardiac calcium score, a test to monitor the heart, to possibly identify heart disease before his heart attack.

Now, he advocates for everyone to get screened, just as if someone were to get a mammogram to check for breast cancer.

Garner said he has since changed his lifestyle, exercising for at least an hour every day, cutting out meat from his diet and meditating. It's all part of the Ornish program that he learned about while in rehab at the Cape Fear Heart Associates' Cardiac Rehab Program at New Hanover Regional Medical Center.

"My life has changed in every way," he said.

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