Cheney's Roy Coumbs: Not lucky, just blessed
By BECKY THOMAS
On a hot afternoon recently, Roy Coumbs was inside his Cheney home doing a crossword puzzle. The puzzles are supposed to help improve his cognition and memory.
Though Coumbs, 68, looks healthy enough, less than three weeks ago he was lying face down in his backyard with no pulse, not breathing. He had suffered a severe heart attack.
Coumbs, a Cheney resident since the 1960s, credits the work of Cheney Fire Department EMTs for saving his life as well as the support and prayers of friends, neighbors and fellow congregants for getting him through.
“I've been very blessed,” Coumbs said. “If you're going to have a heart attack, do it in Cheney.”
On July 28, Roy Coumbs and his wife Judy were out in the backyard doing some yard work and gardening. Coumbs has no memory of the moments leading up to his heart attack.
“As they tell me, I just face planted,” he said.
Judy, busy in the garden, didn't hear her husband fall.
“I was picking vegetables and pulling a few weeds. I was coming back in and that's when I found him,” she said.
Immediately, the quiet day turned into chaos. Judy called 911 and a crew from Cheney Fire was there within minutes.
The crew of Bill Dennstaedt, Ken Johnson, Ian Brown and Kristy Biggs performed CPR as well as administering drugs through an intravenous line. Meanwhile, local doctor Melissa Norton happened to be driving by, stopped and assisted the EMTs.
“She just happened to stop by and we know her really well, so she took over the airway for us,” Johnson said.
After a few minutes, they used a defibrillator to shock his heart, established a pulse and loaded Coumbs into an ambulance.
Coumbs spent the next several days in the hospital recovering from the heart attack. His conus artery, a third coronary artery that exists in only 45 percent of people, had been fully blocked. Doctors decided to let the artery die rather than risk puncturing it to clear the blockage, and Coumbs' body was cooled to 90 degrees and medicated for 24 hours to avoid the pain associated with the process. Suffering from memory loss, he doesn't remember anything from the week in the hospital, but Judy does.
Friends and family flocked to the hospital, filling up the waiting rooms.
“We had more support than probably 90 percent of the people in the hospital,” she said.
People brought drinks and snacks for the family, and later, when Coumbs came home last week, they brought frozen meals that would help ease Judy's workload.
“I really learned what kind of support you need in a situation like this,” she said. “Anything that makes life easier.”
Many of the supporters were fellow parishioners at Fellowship Baptist Church, which the Coumbs' have been attending for many years. Others were Baptists from throughout the region—Roy Coumbs is the chairman of the missions committee for the Inland Empire Baptist Association. His Christian faith is very important to Coumbs, and he attributes that faith to his astounding recovery so far.
“I am really, really blessed by the kind of care and concern and compassion that's been showed to me,” he said.
Coumbs has been feeling fine since he returned home, walking a mile each day. It is still unclear how much damage was done by the heart attack and the minutes he spent without oxygen in his system. He has partial blockages in other arteries, and begins cardiac rehabilitation later this month.
In many senses, Coumbs is lucky to be alive, let alone to walk, talk and think properly.
“It was a wake-up call, absolutely,” he said.
On his way home from the hospital last week, Coumbs stopped in to the Cheney Fire Department to thank the crew that saved his life.
“I just can't say enough about our EMT service,” he said. “Those guys are great. They are just amazing.”
Cheney Fire Chief Mike Winters said his crew did what they were trained to do. Although several recent heart attack calls have not ended so happily, he said local EMTs relish the ‘saves.'
“Not to make this all political, but with the EMS levy passing, this is what it's all about. This is a perfect example of what ILS (intermediate life support, an upgrade funded by levy dollars) has done for the community here,” he said. Without the ILS service level, those EMTs could have only given chest compressions.
The experience was enough to convince Coumbs, who leans conservative politically and despises the phrase “replacement tax,” to change his mind on the EMS levy that passed on the August 7 ballot.
“I did, I voted ‘yes,' without hesitation,” he said.
Becky Thomas can be reached at email@example.com.