Updated: July 21, 2020 10:25 PM
Created: July 20, 2020 09:45 PM
The Richfield fire chief is making a remarkable recovery after suffering cardiac arrest earlier this month. Within days, he was up and walking around. Now, Chief Wayne Kewitsch is sharing his story with the hopes it will help someone else.
“The whole cascade of events went perfectly for me,” he said. “I am one very, very lucky and fortunate individual.”
Kewitsch spoke to us at the Edina fire station, surrounded by the team of paramedics who helped save his life.
He went into cardiac arrest while at home on the morning of July 1.
“I was walking back in from taking the garbage out and felt a really heavy sharp pain in my chest,” he said. “I had been dealing with some reflux issues so I thought, well, maybe that was it.”
When he went inside, he tried eating something but said it didn’t taste good.
“I was going to go talk to my wife, who was working from home during COVID, and I ended up sitting down in my chair,” he said. “The next thing I realize is I wake up in the ambulance.”
The chief’s wife found him and called 911 as their 24-year-old son started compressions with the help of dispatchers.
“His family was exceptional,” said Lt. Todd Porthan, with the Edina Fire Department. “I can't even fathom what it's like to do CPR on your own family member but they did it, they knew what they had to do and they did just an exceptional job.”
Porthan was in charge of the shift that day and recognized the address when the 911 call came in.
“I quickly ran to the computer, looked at the address and I knew it was his house right then,” he said.
Edina police and Edina paramedics rushed over, not knowing who was in trouble. They were on scene in two minutes. Kewitsch lives less than a mile from the fire station.
“He comes to pretty much every one of our fires, so he’s pretty much our chief as well,” said Ben Kinne, an Edina paramedic and firefighter. “When we walked into the house and saw him lying there, it sunk in a little bit but at that point the training kicks in.”
A couple of Edina police officers arrived first, then the team of seven paramedics.
“I ran in as fast as I could and his son was doing chest compressions but I took over for him immediately,” Porthan said. “I don’t know how to explain it, it's something you'll never forget about.”
“But you just have to remember that I need to focus on what I need to do right now, what our team needs to do right now so Wayne can be with his family, so he can end his career the way he wants, so he can have a great retirement.”
Only 27 minutes elapsed from the 911 call until the moment he arrived at the cath lab at the University of Minnesota East Bank Hospital.
Kewitsch woke up during the ambulance ride.
“I was sitting in what we call the captain’s chair right at the head just talking with him, reassuring him, letting him know we were taking care of him, he was doing well,” Kinne said. “He came around very quickly, fastest I’ve ever seen someone wake up and start talking.”
The following week, the chief was up and walking around. He visited the Edina station to show his gratitude to the officers and paramedics who responded.
“I can't thank them enough for what they did,” he said. “I owe them my life. Everyone in that chain, I owe them the rest of my life.”
The Edina team is thankful for his recovery.
“It was great to see him up and walking and talking and doing well,” Kinne said.
For Porthan, “The recovery like that, it just it doesn't happen a lot, so yeah it's an incredible feeling.”
Kewistch told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS there are also lessons that can be learned from his experience.
“Don’t hesitate to call 911 when you're having any kind of chest pain, don't do what I did,” he said. “The other thing is learn how to do CPR, learn how to do hands-only CPR and realize you could save a life.”
The chief said it’s easy to learn, and while classes may be limited during the pandemic, there are instructional videos online that can used instead.
He said the “chain of survival” for cardiac arrests was perfectly executed. The first step is immediately calling 911, then start CPR right away. The next step is rapid defibrillation, followed by emergency medical services.
“It’s really something to still be here and know what happened, and know the statistics, and know the impact most people have that I don't have and how fortunate I am,” Kewistch said. “That's very humbling, very humbling.”
The chief did not sustain any neurological damage or muscular damage to his heart.
The team of Edina paramedics are well trained and urge people to call if something doesn’t feel right.
“Don’t ever be afraid to call, ask for help,” Porthan said. “Just because we show up at your house doesn't mean we're going to take you to the hospital.”
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