Rapid heart attack response saves veteran firefighter and paramedic

The day that changed everything for Dave Galbraith began like any other. It was March 22,  2017.  Captain Galbraith was at his desk at DeKalb County Fire Rescue headquarters in Tucker.
About 11 in the morning,  the then 46-year old veteran firefighter/paramedic began to feel off.

"And started having a full, heavy, almost a pressure feeling in my torso, up into my shoulders, and down my arms," Galbraith says.

So he got up and tried to walk off the pressure.Galbraith had spent years as a paramedic, working to save heart attack patients.Now, the paramedic was becoming a patient himself.

"I tried very hard to not recognize that I was having a heart attack," Galbraith says. "I'm not proud of that, but I think it's really common impulse, denial. It can't be me.  It can't be happening."

Then, the dread set in.

"It was just this overwhelming, oppressive anxiety," he remembers.

Galbraith took the elevator up to the office of his colleague and friend Captain Kimberly Bulloch.
He was now sweating, visibly on-edge.

"I was looking at him like, like something doesn't look right," Bulloch says. "So, I just asked him to sit down."

Bulloch checked Galbraith's pulse, and attached him to a portable heart monitor, asking a coworker to call 911.

"I knew exactly what was going on. I knew what was happening to me."

That's when Master Firefighter Terry White, a paramedic, arrived.

"And when we walk in, it's complete silence," White says. "You can definitely tell something is going on, and you can definitely tell it's one of ours."

Galbraith had been part of a team led by the American Heart Association's Metro Atlanta Southeast Chapter working to speed up the chain of care for heart attack patients, connecting EMS crews with local ERs and cath labs-- Mission: Lifeline.Now Galbraith's own life was on the line.

"We know that every minute that passes that that part of his heart is dying," Captain Bulloch explains. "So we've got to stop that heart attack."

Another EMS crew alerted Northside Hospital's ER, a heart attack patient was coming in.
"As soon as we walked it, you see everybody, and it's amazing how well the system works," says White.

Rushed into a cath lab, Captain Galbraith had a complete blockage -- 100 percent -- of his left anterior descending artery, the one they call "the Widowmaker."  But, as the doctor threaded a balloon-tipped catheter up to the artery and expanded it, reopening the blood flow, he felt it.

"The pressure and the anxiety I was having just stopped," he says.  "I asked the doctor, I said, 'Did you just do something to make me feel better?'"

Galbraith, who is now retired, has no permanent heart damage.He's grateful for his former coworkers and for the system he believes helped save his life.

"I don't think it was an accident that the stars aligned that day. I think here it metro Atlanta we have an excellent system in place," he says.