LACONIA — When it comes to saving someone from a heart attack, it’s not enough to rely on paramedics and emergency room staff. Civilian bystanders must be prepared to aid the victim during the crucial minutes it takes before emergency responders arrive.
Nobody knows that better than Rich Robertson, 69, of Sanbornton, who is alive today thanks to the quick response of people who were trained to help someone in just his circumstance.
Robertson, a retired engineer, spent the day of June 21 fishing with his best friend of 40 years, Roy Johnson. Instead of their usual Lake Winnisquam, they decided to try Lake Opechee, which they accessed from the public launch off of Messer Street in Laconia.
That proved to be a fateful choice, because it meant that they were next to an electrical substation, operated by Eversource, when it came time to put Johnson’s boat back on the trailer.
That was when Robertson suffered ventricular fibrillation, a very dangerous malfunction of his heart that prevents any blood from flowing. He collapsed while still in the boat, Johnson saw him slumped over and yelled for help.
“Luckily, there were four guys from Eversource who were working on that big substation,” Robertson said.
He doesn’t remember a thing about the events of that day, or for the several days afterward. But he has since learned that the four power company workers, who he said are built like NFL linebackers, pulled the slender Robertson out of the boat and immediately began performing CPR.
The Messer Street boat launch is only a half-mile from the Laconia Fire Department, and an ambulance crew was able to quickly respond to the scene. EMTs recognized what was happening and took Roberston first to Lakes Region General Hospital, but the emergency department doctor told the ambulance crew to instead take him directly to Concord Hospital due to the seriousness of his condition. In Concord, Robertson was put into a coma for several days, and surgeons implanted a pacemaker to prevent the condition from returning.
Judy Robertson, Rich’s wife, said the surgeon told her before the operation that she might not see her husband alive again. But, he added, “If anybody has a chance, he does, because of the quick response.”
Robertson doesn’t have the energy today that he did before June 21, though that’s expected as part of his recovery. And the father of two, and grandfather of two more, doesn’t appear to have suffered any injury to his brain, which is surely thanks the immediate response from his friend and bystanders who leapt to his aid.
“This is an example of what we call the chain of survival,” said Shawn Riley, deputy chief at Laconia Fire Department. “Immediate bystander CPR, early arrival of EMS with defibrillation and care at a local community hospital followed by transfer to a cardiac center. It all worked perfectly and underscores the importance of everyone learning CPR.”
“I think it’s great that Eversource employees learn CPR and are willing to spring into action when placed in these stressful situations,” Riley said.