PALMER -- Emergency 911 dispatchers can go years without knowing for sure if their efforts actually helped save a life. They rarely get closure after giving instructions to panicked callers waiting for rescue crews.
Sunday night, however, Palmer Police dispatcher Hilary Schwarderer received a rare gift when she talked a Butte woman through CPR after her husband had collapsed from a heart attack on his front porch.
"It was pretty amazing," Schwarderer, 28, said Wednesday night, explaining that most of the 911 calls for cardiac arrest coming into their center do not have a happy ending.
"Sometimes you hear of patients getting their pulse back, but then they don't make it. But this one was different. The ambulance crew called me later and said he was conscious and alert when he arrived at the hospital. I had to unplug my headset and go walk around I was so excited."
After working as a dispatcher for three years, this was her first confirmed save, she said, adding that that was the department's 40th CPR call since Jan. 1.
"I feel like I can handle anything now," the 25-year Valley resident said.
Those feelings were echoed by Frank and Jackie Muncy, who now can look forward to celebrating their 47th wedding anniversary in November.
"Everything was in place for this to happen and to have a great outcome," Jackie Muncy said Thursday from the hospital while waiting for her husband to have a heart monitor installed before taking him to their home a couple of miles outside Palmer. "Frank has made such a recovery, it's incredible."
Frank Muncy, 67, a retired U.S. Department of Agriculture loan officer on rural development projects in the state, worked under Palmer City Manager Bill Allen for 10 years when they were both with the USDA. During that time, the two forged a close friendship that became apparent to the general public during Tuesday's City Council meeting.
Allen became choked up while announcing he's writing a letter of commendation for Schwarderer and her teammate Tanya Alston for helping save Muncy two nights before. While Schwarderer was on the phone with Muncy's wife as she began giving him 400 chest compressions, Alston was busy directing EMT crews to their home.
"I felt very blessed that I didn't lose a friend and that our employees played a major part in saving his life," Allen said Wednesday. "And it became a rude awakening for me since I'm only six months younger than him!"
Reached at the hospital Thursday after having a small heart monitor put into his chest, Muncy said he was very proud of his wife for maintaining her cool while trying to revive him.
"She's my rock," the grandfather of nine said. "She came through. She's a good wife and a good mother and a good grandmother, and she probably never thought she'd be able to do something like this."
The Muncys learned later that the survival rate for heart attack victims is only about 6 percent. Jackie Muncy said that if she had known that when she called 911, she probably wouldn't have been so calm.
"I didn't realize the severity of it at the time, I'll tell the truth," she admitted. "After awhile, he turned pasty white and his lips were blue, so I knew he was in bad shape."
Frank Muncy had not experienced any health issues before, so the last thing the couple expected was a heart attack, his wife said, adding that he was never a smoker or drinker and wasn't too much overweight.
So when her husband told her Sunday night his feet were "on fire" and that his hands felt like they were "stinging metal" and he went out into the cool night air on their porch in only his undershorts, she didn't know what to think.
"Right after he said he was feeling better, he passed out and fell backward onto the porch," she recalled. "I grabbed a blanket and pillow for him and he was beginning to come around and told me he should go to the hospital. So I was trying to help him stand up when I felt something change in his demeanor -- there was an extraordinary stillness in him. So I laid him back down and tried to get a response, but nothing."
Schwarderer said it was Jackie Muncy's calm reaction and step-by-step following of CPR directions that played a major role in bringing her husband back from death.
She said many times callers are unable to keep their panic in check and to listen to dispatchers well enough to save the victims.
"She did beautifully. She did everything she was supposed to," Schwarderer said. "I couldn't have asked for a better call."
Within six minutes, the Muncys' neighbors, both EMS volunteers with the Butte Fire Department, and other rescue personnel arrived on the scene to take over.
The Muncys found out later that Frank's right coronary artery was 70 to 80 percent blocked. Doctors installed a stint in the artery to keep it open, their daughter Carol Hushower said Thursday from the hospital.
"I've always loved my parents, but you come to realize how much you really need them when something like this happens," Hushower said. "I'm very proud of my mom. She really is a hero."
Here's what to do for increasing the chances of survival during a medical emergency:
• Call 911 only if there is an actual emergency. Palmer's main command center got more than 30,000 911 calls last year, a large portion of them for non-emergencies, tieing up the line, said dispatch supervisor Rebecca Frey.
• Keep clear directions to your house next to your phone.
• Learn basic CPR and first aid, but let dispatchers walk you through procedures even if you think you know the steps.
• Try to remain calm, but be aware every second counts.
• If more than one person is there, one person should give help while another holds the phone and relays instructions.
• Although the impulse is to first make the patient comfortable with pillows, having him or her flat on the floor is better, especially if CPR is given.
By K.T. McKEE