David Taylor suffered a classic weather-related heart attack while shoveling sidewalks at his Columbia apartment complex, but the response from Howard County emergency officials credited with saving his life was faster and more complex than any routine medical call.
In full storm response mode, the county had 30 people from a variety of agencies manning computers and phones at its emergency operations center. They coordinated both a quick medical rescue for Taylor at his apartment, and also sent another vehicle to get Dr. Julie Miller, the Johns Hopkins Hospital cardiologist on call for heart attacks, who was snowbound Thursday morning at her Clarksville home.
The medical response was so swift, Deputy Fire Chief Charles Sharpe said, because the department already had emergency medical crews at Howard County General Hospital, which is about a mile from Taylor's Hickory Ridge Road apartment. The fire crews were taking discharged hospital patients home to help free more beds for incoming patients.
Taylor, 48, a U.S. Department of Agriculture employee, felt chest pain and suffered from shortness of breath just before 10 a.m. Thursday as he shoveled at the Avalon Symphony Woods Apartments, said Ruth Taylor, his mother, who later traveled from her Annapolis home to help.
She said he walked back to his second-floor apartment, lay down on the floor as the pain became worse and used his cell phone to call his 16-year-old daughter, Brittany, who was sleeping in another room with the door closed. The two share the apartment, though Taylor has three older children living in other states.
"I was asleep," Brittany Taylor said. She thought her dad wanted her to help shovel, before finding him on the living room floor, saying "call an ambulance, call an ambulance." She quickly dialed 911, still not knowing what was wrong. "It was very scary," she said.
According to Ruth Taylor, her son was able to say that he couldn't breathe and had chest pain. The Fire Department medics responded quickly, along with county police, she said.
Finding Taylor in full cardiac arrest, they used a portable defibrillator and CPR to bring him back from near death and stabilize him, Sharpe said. They also used electronic equipment to determine that he needed immediate angioplasty to reopen a blocked blood vessel.
That's when Dr. Matthew Levy, the emergency room physician at Howard County, put out the call for Miller. The county emergency center dispatched a Fire Department sport-utility vehicle with four-wheel drive to get her.
"I went as quickly as I got called," Miller said, walking about a half-mile through deep snow from her unplowed street to speed her trip, her own four-wheel drive vehicle useless in such conditions. A county plow cleared the street later Thursday morning, she said.
The angioplasty went well and David Taylor got a stent, a metal, screen-like device implanted in a blood vessel that, once inflated with a tiny balloon, helps keep the affected artery open.
"If they had not been there, he would not have made it," Miller said about the EMT team.
Ruth Taylor blamed the heart attack on her son's smoking habit.
"He was a smoker," she said. "I feel he dodged a bullet," adding that her son was in intensive care and would remain hospitalized for another two to four days.
Miller agreed that smoking is a "major risk factor" in the buildup of plaque that impedes blood flow in arteries.
Sharpe described the rescue Thursday afternoon during a meeting with County Executive Ken Ulman and Gov. Martin O'Malley at the county's storm emergency center in the James N. Robey Public Safety Training Center, near Interstate 70 at Alpha Ridge, where county workers from a variety of agencies have been camped out for days since the storms began Friday night.
Sharpe said he was proud of the way his department responded, and Ulman said other county agencies have also transported people through the snow for vital dialysis and medical appointments, some into Baltimore City. Both elected officials thanked all the workers for their round-the-clock diligence helping residents.
"We're starting to get a lot of e-mails and calls with thank-yous," Ulman said. "I have not seen one frustrated employee. Everyone's cooperating. 'What can I do to help'" is the attitude at the center, he said.
O'Malley pointed out that local governments often didn't have emergency operations centers before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"It's really good to see your EOC humming and running," he said.
County public works director James Irvin said plows were well into clearing residential streets Friday, though the job would take days to complete, and crews would have to return to open clogged storm drains and haul away piles of snow blocking some traffic lanes and obstructing drivers' vision.