On June 11, Nicole Garrett watched her husband, Brad, die.
“You could hear the last of his breath leave his lungs,” she said. “I knew he was gone.”
A three-person crew from the Spokane Valley Fire Department revived him, however. After using a mechanical CPR device for eight minutes, they were able to get Brad Garrett’s heartbeat back as he was being rushed to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center by ambulance.
One of the firefighters, Brook Brown, went back to the home to tell Nicole Garrett that her husband had a heartbeat again.
The call for help came in shortly after 5 a.m. that day. The Garretts, who had been preparing to move to Missouri within a few days, lived close to Station 7 on South Evergreen Road.
“We got there within a minute or so,” Brown said.
The department gets daily calls about chest pains. Brown estimates that only about one in 20 of those calls involves a full cardiac arrest.
When they arrived, Brad Garrett was sweaty, having difficulty breathing and experiencing chest pains.
“Brad has no memory of that day,” his wife said. “He woke up at 4:45 a.m. just feeling sick. He couldn’t even tell me what was wrong.”
Brown said Brad Garrett was sitting on the stairs in his house, and it was apparent that something was seriously wrong. His chest is hairy, so they had to pause to shave several spots before they could stick the EKG leads to his skin.
“Right when we got the stickers on him, he collapsed,” Brown said.
His two crewmates, Montana Sturges and Abe Nisbet, rode in the ambulance with Garrett.
“He got right to the hospital, right to the cath lab,” he said.
Going into full arrest with first responders present ensured the best outcome, Brown said. Usually, they’re called after the arrest happens.
“It’s pretty rare to witness the arrest,” he said.
Brad Garrett said his doctors told him his left anterior descending artery (LAD) was 100% blocked, creating what is known as a “widow maker” heart attack. According to the American Heart Association, the survival rate for widow makers is only 12% when they happen outside a hospital.
He was in the intensive care unit for 30 days and in the hospital for 48 days total before spending two weeks in St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Center.
While Nicole Garrett said they are grateful for the CPR that brought him back to life, there were complications. He had eight broken ribs, one of which nicked a lung that filled with blood. He developed aspiration pneumonia and also suffered from delirium, which causes confusion and anxiety.
He has no memory of the first two or three weeks after his heart attack.
“Actually, it’s kind of a relief,” he said of his memory loss. “The stories I’ve heard of what I went through, I’m grateful I don’t remember.”
The couple resides in Missouri now, but Brad Garrett said he wanted to thank the crew that saved him before he left town. After a couple visits to Station 7, firefighters there helped him track down Brown, who now works at Station 9. He walked into the station one day to say thank you.
“It is overwhelming to think of what would have happened if they wouldn’t have been there,” his wife said. “They were very kind to me as a scared family member.”
Brad Garrett, 53, has no family history of heart disease. He led an active lifestyle, often going hiking, fishing and hunting. A physical a month before his heart attack revealed only slightly elevated cholesterol. The doctor didn’t even suggest medication, he said.
“This was completely out of the blue,” he said. “I thought I was in really good shape.”
He acknowledges, however, that despite his good blood work, he spent a little too much time at McDonald’s.
“I did not have the greatest diet, I’ll say that,” he said.
The Garretts say they noticed small things in the year before his heart attack. Brad would become short of breath randomly. He was unusually fatigued at times. He had a persistent dry cough. He woke up with severe acid reflux a few times, which they now think could have been small heart attacks.
He visited the doctor to check on the cough, but chalked it up to some form of long COVID. He was otherwise unworried about his symptoms, which were sporadic and seemed minor.
“None of them were really alarming to me,” he said.
As part of his recovery, he has changed his diet, makes sure he stays in shape and takes medication to keep his heart healthy.
“I feel fantastic,” he said. “We’ve been able to hike and hunt.”
Brown said he and his fellow firefighters often don’t know if the people they treat survive, so he’s glad Garrett stopped by to let him know that he’s doing fine now.
“We don’t get closure,” he said. “We don’t know what happens. Some of those calls just stick with us.”
Knowing that Brad Garrett survived helps make the work he does worth it, Brown said.
“For the guy to show up looking for me, it was kind of special,” Brown said. “Seeing him alive after seeing him dead was great.”