Masters was climbing the popular hike known as the Grouse Grind located just outside downtown Vancouver on Saturday, Aug. 21, with her husband, San Miguel County Sheriff Bill Masters, her daughter, Paige Mallette, and some friends, when their sunny, Saturday morning adventure unexpectedly turned into a life-or-death emergency situation and, for Masters, a busman’s holiday.
“I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this is crazy,’” Masters said of her reaction to the throng of humanity coursing its way along the grueling 1.8-mile, 2,800-foot climb up the face of the mountain. The crowd included everyone from experienced hikers to young women wearing flip-flops and Hello Kitty backpacks, she said.
“It’s like going straight up the Telluride Trail, but a little more intense,” she described.
“There are a lot of people on that trail that should not be there.”
As she reached the top, Masters heard someone yelling for a doctor and made her way over to the sound of the shouting to find a man lying on the ground.
She bent down to check him, discovering that “he was clearly in cardiac arrest,” she said.
She began administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation as Bill Masters, an off-duty firefighter, and a Grouse Mountain patroller carrying a pack with first aid equipment including an AED (similar to about a dozen publicly accessible units in Telluride including at the Coffee Cowboy, outside the Nevasca Realty office and in the Gondola station) arrived to help her, she said.
While a Canadian newspaper credited the patroller with saving the man’s life, Masters said that he provided her with the AED, but did not actually use it.
The device available to Masters was designed for use by a layperson, as are those found throughout town. They work by assessing irregular heart rhythms through adhesive electrode pads applied to the victim’s chest. If the rhythm is determined to be one of two specific types, they then prompt the operator to deliver an electric shock to the victim’s heart.
That shock stuns the heart, allowing it to reset itself to a normal rhythm.
“I put the patches on…and I shocked him,” she said.
“He started breathing again.”
By then Mallette, a graduate of the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center School of Medicine who just entered an orthopedics and sports medicine residency at the University of Washington in Seattle, had arrived on the scene and was able to confirm that the victim had a pulse and was breathing.
While foot power is the way up the Grouse Grind, getting back down again requires a tram ride to the bottom of the mountain. With that the ad-hoc emergency response team got the man into an emptied tram so he could be delivered to a Vancouver hospital by a waiting ambulance.
“There’s a stream of people directly above you, almost like a stairway, and you’re in the trees the whole time,” said Bill Masters.
“If something happened halfway up, you can’t get a helicopter in there,” he continued. “He was fortunate that he finished.”
Once at the hospital, the man was induced into a coma and treated with therapeutic induced hypothermia, Jill Masters said.
“I got a call from his daughter,” she said. “She said that two days later her father woke up and recognized them.”
“We felt good that he made it,” she continued.
“It was just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.”
While AEDs are designed for use by people with little or no training, they must be used, along with CPR, as soon as possible following a sudden cardiac arrest. According to the website of the American College of Emergency Physicians, a person’s chances of survival are reduced by seven to 10 percent with every minute that passes without CPR and defibrillation.
Yet with so many AEDs throughout San Miguel County (according to Chief Paramedic Emil Sante there are more than 30 in the county’s east end) there’s an opportunity for even the average person to make a life-or-death difference at a moment’s notice.
“The moral of the story is that people should know that even really basic skills can save lives,” said Masters. “Everybody should know CPR, and know where nearest AEDs are.”
“One of the nice things about the AED is it’s fairly intuitive,” said Sante. “It’s automated and will walk you through what to do.”
Because AEDs recognize only two lethal heart rhythms, “It’s not like it’s going to zap someone who doesn’t need to be zapped,” Sante continued.
Somewhat auspiciously, Masters’s story of saving a life with a tool found throughout town comes just as the TFPD is looking for funding to help it maintain the devices for which it became responsible about six months ago.
“It’s not a big number,” said Sante.
“The batteries expire every four years, and the pads expire every two years,” he continued.
“I figure $4,000 annually coming into the program would probably do it.”