- Associated Press - Monday, March 7, 2016

ROCK HILL, S.C. (AP) - Looking inside the Piedmont Medical Center ambulance, Martha Hemlepp saw paramedic Eric Mayhew pounding on the chest of her lifeless husband, Mike.

Scared and numb, Martha Hemlepp believed that her husband of 20 years was dead.

Suddenly Martha found herself in the arms of Yanna Huffstickler, another paramedic who arrived on the second unit responding to the call of trouble breathing.

Huffstickler told Martha Hemlepp that everything would be OK, that she needed to calm down and needed to be strong and that she needed to find someone to take her to the hospital.

“She was an angel,” Martha Hemlepp said Thursday of Huffstickler. “She gave me love.”

On Feb. 25, the Hemlepps said thank you to some of the PMC paramedics who responded to the Jan. 16 call from their Paraham Road residence. There were hugs, smiles and the simple thanks of Mike Hemlepp, who announced he was a “dead man walking” when he arrived PMC’s emergency management headquarters.

Mike Hemlepp’s memories of that Saturday morning are few. Hemlepp, 80, remembers getting up and having trouble breathing. He got dressed and called 911. Martha, 59, was getting ready to take him to the hospital.

He went outside to wait for the ambulance. It wasn’t the first time Hemlepp had called 911 for breathing troubles.

The next firm memory Mike Hemlepp has is waking up in the ICU of Piedmont Medical Center on the following Tuesday, holding his daughter’s hand while surrounded by a crying, smiling, and excited family.

Paramedic Eric Mayhew has a different memory. A 27-year veteran of EMS, Mayhew said he knew from the moment he saw Mike Hemlepp on his porch, wearing his retired Marines T-shirt, that he was “big sick.”

Mayhew, who had responded to one of the Hemlepp’s earlier 911 calls, immediately helped him to the ambulance, knowing that respiratory arrest and cardiac arrest were distinct possibilities.

It was not long after Mayhew and his partner, Erica Harrelson, started their assessment that Hemlepp’s condition went to respiratory and then cardiac arrest.

Mayhew immediately switched from assessment to CPR, giving Hemlepp deep chest compressions - so deep and forceful that Hemlepp asked Thursday, “which one of you damaged my chest?”

Mayhew, with a sheepish grin, raised his hand.

For about six minutes, Hemlepp and Harrelson performed CPR on Hemlepp. They gave him a defibrillating shock once. The result was RSC - return of spontaneous circulation. Hemlepp was alive.

Mike Hemlepp said Feb. 25 nothing - not even military service in Vietnam or service as an EMT himself - prepared him for what happened. He said he was just glad that he had a great support team behind him with paramedics such as Mayhew, who perform CPR 50 to 70 times a year. Sometimes, paramedics can resuscitate a person in a matter of minutes, other times it can take as long as 25 minutes, Mayhew said.

Hemlepp said his 24 years in the Marines as an infantryman and later as an officer did help in one regard: The Corps taught him to always have a positive attitude and instilled in him the ability to survive.

The paramedics took Hemlepp to Piedmont Medical Center, but he was not out of the woods yet. At PMC, the staff induced a coma to allow his body to heal.

At some point during his heart attack and recovery, Hemlepp remembers having an “out-of-body” experience.

He said he saw yellow walls. “I was attached to the walls and people were beating on me but I couldn’t feel pain.”

He also remembers seeing a young girl. It might have been Jasmine Melvin, his granddaughter who died of cancer when she was 3 years old, he said.

He has a clearer memory of a dream that disturbed him. It was a winding road with a series of moving red boxes and rectangles. The dream was so vivid that Hemlepp didn’t want to go back to sleep.

To avoid the bad dream, Hemlepp thought of the movies he liked when he got sleepy. Tops on his list were “The Last Samurai,” ”The Sands of Iwo Jima” and “Rudy.” An American Samurai, John Wayne and a walk-on football player helped keep him focused.

As a result of the heart attack, Hemlepp is on a new, low sugar and salt diet. He carries a bottle of salt substitute with him in his jacket pocket. He has dropped 15 pounds. His chest and throat still hurt.

But when it came time to say thank you to the paramedics who saved his life, Hemlepp carried himself like a Marine, standing at attention, his hands cuffed and shoulders pulled back. The only telltale sign that something had changed were the mussed, too-big khaki slacks he wore.

“There is nothing,” Hemlepp said, “I can do or say to express the appreciation for your expertise, motivation and determination” to the two paramedics - Mayhew and Lt. Kurt Kruysman - standing at his side.

And then Martha Hemlepp threw aside the military rules of no public display of affection, hugging the men who saved her husband.

___

Information from: The Herald, https://www.heraldonline.com

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