NORTH FORK – It was a day of joy and celebration last Saturday as the family of Mike Nolen expressed their gratitude to the first responders and community members who made it possible for Mike to live to tell the tale.
Cal Fire’s Rancheria Station, just south of North Fork, played host to the firefighters, Emergency Services personnel, and citizens who worked together to save Mike’s life when he suffered from a ninety-nine percent blockage to his left anterior descending artery and lost consciousness while riding his bike on Oct. 17.
The process that unfolded over the next half-hour on that day was a testament to skill, training and teamwork, and Mike’s wife Judy and daughter Jill wanted to make sure each and every person involved was acknowledged and personally thanked.
On the day of Mike’s incident, he was riding his bike on Road 221 when he collapsed on the side of the road. Veronica Aguilar was headed into Oakhurst with her two kids when she saw him lying by the side of the road and stopped to see if he was okay. At that point, he was barely breathing.
Veronica ran back to her car for her phone to call 911 and start flagging down others. Greg Johnson, a former Marine who also lives in North Fork, stopped and began administering CPR. By then, Jeremy and Heather Bahne, who live in Kingsburg but were on their way to visit her parents, Bill and Mary Dodge, had also stopped. Heather searched for a pulse and Jeremy held Mike’s head while Greg and another man (who did not wish to take credit for his actions) took turns with CPR, performing the vital function of keeping the blood and oxygen flowing.
Firefighters from Madera County Fire Station 11 arrived within minutes – Jere and Diann Miller, Rachel Rivera, and Augie Capuchino – along with Cal Fire Engine 4255 from the Rancheria Station.
Nathan Hoehn, Joseph Machado, Erik Sotelo, Ryan Adams and Landon Sunia are the 4255 crew, and they immediately initiated resuscitation with an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED), administering the shock that got Mike’s heart rhythm back.
Sierra Ambulance then arrived at scene, and EMT Kelly Lister and paramedic Scott Ramirez took over and prepared Mike for transport, loading him into the SkyLife air ambulance, which had landed in the middle of the roadway. He was then airlifted to St. Agnes Medical Center, just minutes away by air. Those precious minutes saved, along with the swift and practiced actions of everyone involved, led to an outcome that is not often seen by these dedicated professionals.
“This just reaffirms why we train every day for this type of scenario,” said Fire Apparatus Engineer Nathan Hoehn. He, along with the other members of the Engine 4255 crew, say this is a day they will never forget.
“To see the training pay off, and have him walk out of the hospital just two days later, is just a great feeling,” said Hoehn. “Such amazing outcomes are so few and far between, and to have the family come in and show their appreciation — it really affirms what we do.”
Along with the Nolen family, Hoehn also expressed his heart-felt thanks to everyone involved with the incident.
“It just so happened that all the right people showed up for this call,” he said, “from the county resources, to the state resources, to EMS and SkyLife – it was an effort from all those involved to run this incident fluidly and professionally, and have a great outcome. Everybody’s training all came together.”
Hoehn says that even if everything goes well on an incident, they still talk about what they can do to improve their game.
“We train over and over and over, but every incident is a little bit different. Even on a good call, we always try to find out what we could do better.”
Though the perception may be that here in the mountains, medical aid is not on par with a larger population center, Sierra Ambulance General Manager Ed Guzman says that isn’t the case.
“In Eastern Madera County, we’re very cutting edge on medical issues,” says Guzman, who notes that the type of AED that saved Mike’s life has been carried on fire engines for many years, and that the level of training of our emergency personnel is the same here as it is in any big city.
Guzman says their system for medical response is designed so that when there is an incident such as this one, the helicopter is dispatched simultaneously with everybody else, allowing a shortened response time that can prove crucial to a good outcome.
One thing everyone in the community learned on this day – we all need to learn CPR. One could come upon someone who needs help, but if they don’t know what to do, the outcome could be so very different. And it could be your spouse, your parent, or even your child.
To ensure that everyone who wants to learn this life-giving skill has the opportunity, Bill and Gina Hartley – both paramedics with Sierra Ambulance and owners of Minarets Medical Education – provide this important training. Sierra News Online and the North Fork Fire Department Auxiliary have contacted Bill and Gina — while the importance of CPR training is fresh in everyone’s minds — to schedule a three-hour class for Saturday, Jan. 16; location to be announced as the size of the class is determined. There is no charge for those not needing or wanting a certificate, and it is just $35 for those who do.
Interested participants are invited to call Bill at 559-658-1052 or Gina at 559-760-0655 to register and have your questions answered.
The final part of this story is the credit to the citizens of North Fork who have been such staunch supporters of Madera County Fire Department’s Station 11 throughout the years. It was their contributions – whether through donations, memberships, or attendance at BBQs or Christmas Bazaar booths hosted by the North Fork Fire Department Auxiliary – that provided the funds used to purchase the AED that saved a life on this day.
As for Mike Nolen – though he says he still has some residual effects from the trauma and the medication, this 34-year veteran of the Forest Service is already back to work half-days. When his doctor questioned this decision, he said, “Well, nobody told me not to go back to work.”
He does, however, choose to look on the bright side, and see the situation as a bit of a get-out-of-jail-free card, which he is playing on occasion.
“I don’t have to split wood,” he says.