PORTAGE | One by one, Patti Lay gave each person involved in saving her life a tight hug.
"Thank you," she said to each one, choking back tears.
Lay suffered a sudden cardiac death the night of Jan. 7.
If it weren't for the quick thinking of a co-worker and a new protocol recently employed by the Portage Fire Department, the 47-year-old mother might not be here today.
Lay and those who worked to save her gathered Wednesday afternoon at Portage Fire Station 1.
"Thank you to everybody for giving me my life back," she told them.
Lay is a midnight shift custodial supervisor at Portage High School. On Jan. 7, she came to work. Co-worker Lee McCurdy was still on duty.
As Lay took a phone call, McCurdy recalled Wednesday, he heard her gasp for breath and then drop to the floor. He called 911 and immediately began CPR.
"I kept thinking, she has a 12-year-old daughter she has to raise," said McCurdy, who learned CPR while working as a supervisor at U.S. Steel decades ago.
Portage police Sgt. John Ryan and Cpl. Flora Ryan were the first on scene and took over the CPR task.
Paramedics arrived. Lay was unconscious and her vitals were poor. They began working on her, shocking her heart twice and then starting her on a therapeutic hypothermia protocol.
The protocol, said Dr. Dave Cummins, an emergency room physician with Porter Regional Hospital, lowered Lay's body temperature by six or seven degrees, slowing down what damage could have been done.
Cummins said the protocol improves neurological outcomes for patients like Lay.
The Portage Fire Department, said Cummins, is the only paramedic provider in the region using the protocol. It was continued at the hospital. A day later, Lay woke up. While she is undergoing cardiac rehab, she said Wednesday she is feeling fine.
Assistant Fire Chief Dan Kodicek said he hopes other paramedic providers hear Lay's story and adopt the protocol.
Kodicek added that he is nominating McCurdy, both Ryans and firefighters Tom Dutko, Nate Bryan, Jeff Dowling, Mark Walczak, Chris Alexander and Ron Ziulkowski for American Heart Association lifesavers awards for their efforts.