As he tells it, the story of Tim Savatieff’s survival starts on New Year’s Day in 2010, when he, his wife and a friend, on a 10-mile hike in the mountains during a visit to the San Francisco Bay Area, engaged in a hypothetical discussion: If any one of them suffered a cardiac arrest or some other life-threatening problem, would they want “heroic measures” performed to save their life?
They all agreed they would not.
On Jan. 2, Savatieff dropped dead (his words), a moment after his wife, sensing something was wrong, leaned back from an embrace and asked: “You’re not going to die on me, are you?”
Yelling for a friend to call 911, Savatieff’s wife, Dr. Alyson Roby, performed seven minutes of CPR, until rescuers arrived. They performed CPR for 45 more minutes, shocking his heart with a defibrillator a dozen times.
Savatieff, 65, a retired artist who lives in Valleyford, had eight broken ribs, and he said his chest felt like he’d been hit by a Mack truck.
He awoke in the hospital with stitches in his tongue, which he’d bitten through. Other features of his aftermath: collapsed lungs and pneumonia. A lifelong athlete and an avid dancer of the Argentine tango, Savatieff lost 20 pounds in his two weeks in the hospital. Upon his discharge, he said, he shuffled like an old man.
But Savatieff has worked hard to get back into good shape. While his heart suffered some permanent damage, he has a pacemaker to help keep it on track.
Roby is a family practice physician who has performed CPR maybe two dozen times. Even so, she said, performing it on her husband was scary. Through her friend on the phone, she asked the 911 dispatcher whether to do mouth-to-mouth CPR or to stick with chest compressions. The dispatcher directed her to do hands-only CPR and counted out the rhythm for her.
When she set out to keep her husband alive, she hadn’t forgotten their conversation the day before, Roby said: “We all agreed that none of us wanted to be vegetables on life support. But I witnessed the arrest, and that’s exactly when CPR makes a difference.”
At the time, of course, she couldn’t predict the outcome. To feel her husband’s ribs break under her hands was “horrific,” she said: “There’s that ‘Oh, I might hurt them.’ You might. And if you don’t try, they’re dead.”
Savatieff said his wife’s first question for him, after he regained consciousness in the hospital, was “Are you mad at me?”
“No, no, I wasn’t,” he said. “And I continue to be very thankful for what she did.”