Chris Desborough had one last uphill climb Wednesday as he wrapped up a 500-mile bike ride that stretched from Spokane Valley to Canada and back.
He powered up Sands Road to 44th Avenue before pulling in the driveway of Spokane County Fire District 8’s Station 84 to the applause and cheers of co-workers, family and firefighters.
It was a very different scene from June 1, 2010, when Desborough lay still on his living room floor as his wife, Tammy, did CPR and frantically dialed 911. He’d had outpatient surgery earlier that day to remove a cyst from his wrist and had complained of not feeling well. Then his heart stopped.
Desborough, now 57, lives only a couple of blocks from Station 84 in the Ponderosa neighborhood and paramedics quickly were pounding at the locked front door. The crew continued CPR and shocked him with a defibrillator several times, said paramedic Amanda Austin.
“And then we transported him, rapidly,” said Lt. Jeff Wainwright.
Even then it was apparent Desborough was a fighter. He was trying to breathe on his own even as paramedics treated him. “I was doing the breaths and I remember feeling resistance,” said firefighter Shane Jenkins.
Desborough was unconscious for four days. When he awoke he learned that he had a defibrillator and pacemaker implanted in his chest. He said he’s not sure if his surgery that day had anything to do with why his heart stopped. He had always been active and healthy, doing everything from running to mountain climbing to hang gliding.
“At this stage, I don’t really care,” he said. “I’m just happy to be alive.”
Born in Wales in the United Kingdom, Desborough served in the British Air Force before working as an engineer in Europe and California. He and his wife met in 1984 at a training conference while they worked for the same company and were stationed together around the world. They married in 1990.
“In all that time I never knew Tammy knew CPR,” he said. “I’m glad she did.”
The couple moved to the area five years ago so Desborough could take a job as an engineer and manager at Honeywell. His company used to make components for Medtronic pacemakers – turns out the Honeywell plant in Spokane Valley did, in fact, make some of the parts in the pacemaker that now regulates his heart, Desborough said.
Desborough has been searching for a way to thank the firefighters that saved him. He showed up at the station two weeks after his hospitalization, bringing food and coffee to the crew. “He was fit, he looked good,” Jenkins said.
Last year, Desborough rode from Seattle to Spokane to raise money for Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, where his heart surgery was performed. This year, he decided to ride 500 miles to raise money for Fire District 8. As of Thursday morning, he had raised $3,265.
“We plan to use this money to buy CPR mannequins to teach CPR to high school students,” said Deputy Chief Greg Godfrey. The district will work with the Freeman School District to teach the life-saving skill, he said.
“It was a good five days,” Desborough said of his ride. “There were a couple of hairy moments.”
At one point on a steep downhill grade, a logging truck passed him and then pulled right in front of him. “He started pulling me along,” he said. “We were going 52 miles an hour. I put my brakes on and he was still pulling me. Then my brakes started smoking.”
The terrifying ride didn’t last long. Desborough said it isn’t unusual to top 30 miles an hour on a “nice” hill. “Fifty two is crazy,” he said.
The crew that helped save Desborough’s life is pleased to see how well he is doing. “These typically do not turn out positively,” said Wainwright. “This one worked. Chris is going to have a long, full life.”