“I said, ‘Well, one day you may have to save me,’” Jim recalls.
He was right.
On the morning of Oct. 4, while checking the latest road conditions for a planned elk hunt, Jim had a heart attack.
Dawn, who was getting ready for work upstairs, heard the thud of her husband falling to the floor and found him unconscious.
“The looks and the sounds and what was going on, I just knew it was a heart attack,” Dawn said.
She called 911 and — recalling that even just chest compressions can help — began pumping on her husband’s chest. He had stopped breathing.
“I was gone,” Jim says.
“I started it, and I thought, ‘I don’t even know if I’m doing it right,’” Dawn recalls, but around that time, Jim took a big breath. Dawn continued the compressions and — for a couple minutes that felt more like an eternity — waited for help to arrive.
Powell Police Officer Kade Richmond reached the Jarretts’ Pat O’Hara Drive home within about two minutes of the call. However, the Jarretts’ home was in the middle of being re-sided and was missing its house numbers.
Dawn went to the front door and directed Richmond inside. Richmond and fellow Officer Reece McLain immediately began providing CPR to Jim; they delivered the first shock from one of the police department’s Automated External Defibrillators just as an ambulance crew from Powell Valley Emergency Medical Services arrived (see related story below).
The medics took over the chest compressions and breaths from the two officers and Jim was shuttled to Powell Valley Healthcare.
Stormy weather then complicated the rescue effort.
Poor visibility precluded a medical helicopter in Billings from coming to Powell Valley Hospital, snow on the runway kept a plane from landing at Powell Municipal Airport and the weather ruled out a landing at Yellowstone Regional Airport in Cody, too.
In the end, a plane crew had to land at the North Big Horn County Airport in Cowley and get an ambulance ride to Powell Valley Hospital. The Jarretts — with Jim in protective hypothermia — were then shuttled back to Cowley and flown to St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings.
Jim Jarrett awoke four days later, having no idea what he was doing at St. Vincent’s.
“My daughter was there and I was like, ‘Uh-oh,’” Jim Jarrett recalls.
People like Jim who experience a heart attack at home and enter cardiac arrest have roughly a two in 100 chance of surviving, his doctors told him.
It’s easy to see why: Jim knows how things would have ended if Dawn had already left for work; if she’d had the hair dryer on and not heard him fall; if she hadn’t started chest compressions right away; if he’d collapsed earlier, while shoveling snow in the driveway, or later, while driving to hunt elk in Sunlight Basin.
“For a while there, I thought 2013 was a horrible year. ... You know, that ain’t true in my case. It was probably...” he starts, before stopping himself. “It was the luckiest year of my life. Not probably.”
He adds, “I got by something that’s going to kill 98 out of 100.”
The road to recovery went well beyond the initial four days.
Jim developed pneumonia — likely a result of the CPR — and then gout. It wasn’t until Oct. 17 that St. Vincent staff were able to wheel Jim into the operating room for quadruple bypass surgery. Jim was released five days later, ending a 19-day ordeal that had caused his family to temporarily relocate to Billings.
‘Nothing but thankful’
Jim was thankful to get out of the hospital and to all who played a role in saving his life.
“We have nothing but admiration for EMS and the police,” Dawn says, adding, “We’re just nothing but thankful.”
Jim says his family has long felt Powell has “the best emergency services you could ask for in this community.”
“They stay ahead of the curve. They’re top notch — thank goodness,” Jim says.
While Officers Richmond and McLain played the police department’s most direct role in the rescue, they were not alone: Powell Police Sgt. Alan Kent corralled the three dogs at the home that day, Officer Cody Bradley helped get Jim onto a cot and into the ambulance and Community Services Officer Anna Paris collected the ambulance crew’s gear.
“Without their assistance, we would have had extreme difficulty getting the cot down the icy, steep stairs outside,” said a letter from Powell Valley EMS to the police department. “But that was done in a swift, efficient manner with their help.”
Speed is of the essence in a situation of cardiac arrest.
“If nothing good is underway within three minutes you’ve got brain damage and everything else coming down the pipe,” Jim says.
Instead, he’s received a clean bill of health. Later scans of his heart have shown no muscle damage.
Jim’s been told “there’s a reason for all of this” and he’s got his eyes wide open for whatever it is.
He had won a truck in a Northwest College Foundation raffle shortly before the incident and hadn’t gotten a chance to drive it.
“That bugged me. I woke up and I said, ‘Who’s going to get my truck?’” Jim laughed.
Now, “I count my blessings every day and my smile gets wider every time I get behind the wheel of that pickup,” he says.
Jim had also drawn a coveted late-season deer tag and — with the help of a friend and his son Jacob — was able to harvest a good-looking buck within a month of his surgery.
Other things that have crossed Jim’s mind are that he has yet to have any grandchildren and — because of a busy summer that saw their two children get married — he and Dawn had entered their 33rd year of marriage without ever really celebrating their 30th anniversary.
Jim rectified that by buying Dawn a new ring after the surgery; he now jokes Dawn saved him so he’d “live long enough to let me give her what I owed her.”
It’s strange, Jim says, to consider he nearly died.
“I can’t even believe it happened to me,” he says, noting he was 58 years old. “I thought I was a pretty healthy guy.”
While he now sees he lacked energy in the months leading up the crisis, there was no tell-tale arm, jaw or chest pain that can proceed a heart attack.
The close call shook up the Jarretts and their children.
“It’s a real sobering thing when you find out that you can be here today and gone today — just a couple minutes later,” Jim says.
Both he and Dawn have made a renewed commitment to diet and exercise. Jim wishes he’d done regular check-ups with his doctor and taken an echocardiogram.
“The message is, ‘Get yourself a stress test,’” he says.
And adds Dawn, “Everyone should know a little bit about CPR.”
You never know who you might save.
Powell officers recognized for efforts
A pair of Powell police officers were honored recently for helping save a man's life.
On Jan. 20, Officers Reece McLain and Kade Richmond received recognition and thanks from the Powell City Council and Police Chief Roy Eckerdt for providing life-saving treatment to Jim Jarrett.
McLain and Richmond performed CPR and delivered a shock from one of the police department’s Automated External Defibrillators while an ambulance crew from Powell Valley Hospital was on the way. Jarrett survived and is doing well.
“Officers McLain and Richmond’s dedication to duty is a credit to themselves, the Powell Police Department and the city of Powell,” Eckerdt said of their actions on the Oct. 4 call.
With Jarrett in full cardiac arrest, all three Powell Valley Healthcare medics were needed in the back of the ambulance to tend to the patient, so McLain drove the vehicle back to Powell Valley Healthcare.
“These officers are to be commended for a job well done,” said the letter from EMS. “We are so fortunate to have the opportunity to train and work with the Powell Police Department. On this call, the outcome could have been very different without law enforcement as first responders. Thank you for all that you do.”
The police department responds to all ambulance calls if they can. Eckerdt said with officers typically out patrolling the city’s streets, they’re often able to get to a location more quickly than an ambulance.
Additionally, all of the department’s dispatchers are trained in emergency medical dispatching so they can provide instructions over the phone until help arrives.
The first officer arrived at Jarrett’s home about two minutes after the 911 call, with the ambulance arriving about five minutes after the call, Eckerdt said, praising the quick responses. The chief said it’s a reminder for the public to be aware of emergency vehicles.
“When you see emergency lights — move over,” he added. “These kind of response times require cooperation from everyone.”
McLain and Richmond received a standing ovation from the audience and council on Jan. 20, along with the department’s “Life Saving Medal” for their “prompt and alert action in the line of duty.”
“That’s really outstanding,” Councilman Floyd Young told the officers.
“Thank you very much,” added Councilman Josh Shorb.