By all accounts, statistics and odds, Brad Atchison should not have been able to walk into Langford Fire Rescue last week to thank those involved in his heart-stopping rescue on Mt. Finlayson.
The Victoria resident, who turns 68 in July, was hiking the popular peak on May 5 in preparation for a hike to the base camp at Mt. Everest in October. The self-described outdoors person and avid hiker, kayaker, backpacker and diver was about 30 minutes into his hike at a relaxed pace and was climbing up a gully after stopping to take some pictures. Suddenly he realized something didn’t feel right.
“I hit a wall and started to feel dizzy and light-headed and had blurred vision,” Atchison recalled. “I started to head back to the car, but had to sit down because I realized I couldn’t make it … I was fighting to stay conscious – I knew then that I was in deep trouble.”
Fortunately, three hikers came along at that moment and Atchison, who swore off cell phones in 2013, asked them to call for help. Thankfully, they stayed with him after they called 911.
Four-and-a-half hours later, Atchison found himself at Victoria General Hospital fighting for his life.
“I had no chest pains or pain in my left arm until I hit the wall,” he said, adding he didn’t know at the time that he was experiencing a heart attack. That particular kind affects the right coronary artery and is aptly nicknamed The Widow Maker and The Silent Killer because, in a lot of cases, there are no symptoms.
Less than five per cent of people live through that type of attack initially, and only 30 per cent survive if they get to a hospital, Atchison was told. “Eighty per cent of heart attacks happen in the home when someone else is around,” he said. “I really feel like I beat the odds.”
Langford Fire Rescue Capt. Steve Adams, a former paramedic, was one of the first firefighters on the scene about 30 minutes after the call came in at 3:18 p.m.
He could see Atchison was displaying signs and symptoms of a heart attack and began to perform CPR.
Atchison went into cardiac arrest and had to be revived six times while firefighters took him down the trail in a wheeled basket structure.
B.C. Ambulance Service paramedics met the group as they descended and used an automatic external defibrillator to bring Atchison back 13 times while he was on his way down the hill, said Langford Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Chris Aubrey.
“They wound up shocking him a total of 22 times,” he said. “That’s an amazing amount of times. The odds (against) someone coming back in that situation are incredibly high.”
Seeing Atchison walk into the No. 1 fire hall Thursday night to thank his rescuers, less than a month after his ordeal, was nothing short of miraculous, Aubrey added.
“Everyone was totally amazed at how quickly he has recovered. It was a great team effort by the firefighters, B.C. Ambulance personnel, the doctors and nurses at the hospital and everyone who was involved.”
Atchison, who describes himself as in better shape than average for his age, said he ironically had a full medical exam a short time before the episode on Mt. Finlayson, and passed with flying colours.
He is back to feeling the way he did before, despite the fact he spent two days in an induced low-temperature coma to minimize the risk of organ damage.
“Brain damage can often be a problem. I’m lucky there’s been no bad effects and I’ll be able to do everything I did before,” he said.
Atchison has, however, nixed his trip to Everest because of the risks he would incur in a low oxygen environment.
The close call prompted him to underline the importance of taking a cell phone when going off on one’s own.
He also reminded everyone that no matter how fit you are, a complete physical examination does not always catch chronic disease or heart conditions.
“First and foremost, I want to thank everyone involved in the rescue and recovery,” he added. “Everyone worked for a long time in an extremely stressful situation and conditions.
It’s a credit to their determination, professionalism and training. My heartfelt gratitude and kudos to every one of them.”