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Local Man Reunites with West Hartford Fire Department Crew That Saved His Life

Bill Souza (center) with his family and members of the West Hartford Fire Department who saved his life. From left: Michelle Souza, Lt. Craig Astle, FFP Dan Kiessling, Bill Souza, David Souza, AO Nikhom Keopraseuth, CSO Andrew Eccles. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Six months after a West Hartford resident and business owner’s life was saved by the West Hartford Fire Department, he and his family hosted a hands-only CPR training class.

Bill Souza, whose life was saved by the West Hartford Fire Department on Aug.10, 2022, participates in hands-only CPR training at GOLFTEC on Feb. 10. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

By Ronni Newton

Six months to the day after Bill Souza collapsed on the kitchen floor of his West Hartford home, he met the crew from West Hartford Fire Department’s Ladder 4 and Medic 22 who saved his life – and celebrated the occasion by hosting a hands-only CPR training session at GOLFTEC, the franchise business owned by his family.

Souza and his son, David Souza, franchise owner and manager of the West Hartford GOLFTEC location at 1146 New Britain Avenue, had been in Massachusetts for the day on Aug. 10, 2022, attending a corporate meeting. He had done all the driving.

Souza said he had just gotten home, went into the kitchen – and woke up about a week later.

“He said he was going to make a cup of tea,” said Michelle Souza, Bill’s wife. “The next thing I know, he was unresponsive.”

Michelle Souza (left) shakes hands with Lt. Craig Astle and Firefighter / Paramedic Dan Kiessling before a hands-only CPR training session. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Lt. Craig Astle, who was a member of the crew that responded to the incident, said it was a good thing that Michelle was home. She called 911 immediately, and said it seemed like no more than 2 minutes before the crew from Station 4 on Albany Avenue arrived at their home near the American School for the Deaf.

“They brought him back,” Michelle said. “We are hugely indebted to our first responders.”

Bill, 69, had previously been treated by a cardiologist for arrhythmia, but otherwise was in excellent health. The heart aneurysm he had that August day was a total fluke, something no one could have anticipated and which he has been told could happen to anyone. Although he has no recollection of the incident, or anything that happened for several weeks afterward, Bill said his cardiologist later said it wasn’t something anyone could have predicted.

“We are blessed that we were right next to each other, here in West Hartford, and that we went to St. Francis, and that an excellent cardiologist was there,” Michelle said. “Everyone said, ‘You are so lucky,'” Bill said in agreement.

Bill spent a week at St. Francis Hospital and then 10 days at Mt. Sinai where he had intensive physical and occupational therapy. He went home on Aug. 27, but continued PT and OT as an outpatient for months afterward and continues to participate in a cardiac rehabilitation program.

Members of the GOLFTEC team are instructed how to perform hands-only CPR by CSO Andrew Eccles (left). Photo credit: Ronni Newton

“He had OT until they determined he could drive,” Michelle said. They used a computer-aided simulator which placed him in various scenarios to test his reflexes and responsiveness to situations. He also underwent speech and language therapy which was needed because he had lost blood flow to the brain.

Bill said he is now cleared for all activities.

“I was really interested to meet the people. They were so fast [at getting to me] and I am indebted to them,” Bill said.

The Souzas wanted to do something to give back, to thank the fire department, and Michelle said she also wanted to help others learn CPR. She said she had read in We-Ha.com about hands-only CPR training. She emailed Andrew Eccles, the West Hartford Fire Department’s community support officer.

“He said we could do a pop-up,” Michelle said.

There were hugs and smiles all around as Bill and Michelle, and their son David – who had raced across town from the Elmwood store when he heard what was happening to his dad – met several members of the crew that had responded.

Lt. Craig Astle (left) and Firefighter / Paramedic Dan Kiessling were two of the responders on the crew that saved Bill Souza’s life. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

In addition to Astle, Firefighter/Paramedic Dan Kiessling treated Bill Souza that day and came to GOLFTEC on Feb. 10 for the reunion and the CPR training, which also include a session on the use of an automated external defibrillator (AED). Apparatus Operator Amanda Gamble, Firefighter/Paramedic Tim Dibble, Firefighter/Paramedic Ryan Kelleher (team lead), and Apparatus Operator Taylor Salva, were on the crew that responded to the Souza home on Aug. 10, but were unable to attend the reunion and training, but Apparatus Operator Nikhom Keopraseuth, EMS Officer Rocco Laudato, and Eccles took their places Friday afternoon.

The Town of West Hartford was recently certified as a HEARTSafe Community by the American Heart Association. Criteria for becoming a HEARTSafe Community includes training citizens in town to perform CPR, increasing the number of automated external defibrillators (AEDs) that are publicly accessible, and following aggressive resuscitation protocols for first responders and at area hospitals.

“The AED recognizes the heart rhythms, and delivers a shock to get the normal beat back,” Laudato said.

CSO Andrew Eccles shows David Souza how to use the AED. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

West Hartford has a higher-than-average “save” rate for victims of cardiac arrest, and Eccles said that when someone is there to call 911 and start CPR, the survival rate increases three to four times. “She called immediately. That saves lives,” he said of Michelle’s actions.

Members of the fire department took the GOLFTEC team – Richard Ledger, Jon Grace, Matt DeGiorgio, Joe DeChirico, and David, Bill, and Michell Souza (coach Troy McCullough was unable to attend) – through the hands-only CPR training session. The mannequins have red and green lights that indicate if you are doing it right, and all achieved success, but noted that CPR is hard work. You’re supposed to do between 100 and 120 compressions per minute – and many say they sing the Bee Gees song “Stayin’ Alive” to themselves because it’s the perfect rhythm, Eccles said, but don’t worry about being perfect when you’re saving someone’s life. Doing it well is good enough, he said.

GOLFTEC coaches who attended hands-only CPR training include (from left): Richard Ledger, Jon Grace, Matt DeGiorgio, and Joe DeChirico. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Anyone performing CPR doesn’t need to worry about hurting a victim. You’re covered under the Good Samaritan Act, Eccles said. And people shouldn’t be intimidated by the AEDs because they tell you what to do each step of the way, as do the dispatchers who answer 911 calls. “Dispatch in this town, they’re awesome,” he added.

“You’re not doing it for the hospital. You’re doing it for the five minutes until we get there,” Eccles said. Firefighter paramedics or other responders then take over, and the West Hartford Fire Department also has five Lucas units that mechanically perform CPR. Astle demonstrated at GOLFTEC how one of the units works, and said it was used on Bill Souza. The Lucas units are helpful not only because they don’t get tired like humans do, he said, but also because they can keep doing compressions as a patient is being carried down the stairs, or being transported on a bumpy ambulance ride.

In Bill’s case, “The Lucas machine definitely gave him a better chance,” Astle said.

EMS Officer Rocco Laudato (right) shows how the Lucas unit performs CPR as Bill Souza (left) and others observe. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Laudato checked the department’s records, and said that crews were at Bill’s side 4 minutes after Michelle called 911. From the time of the call until Bill had a pulse again, 16 minutes had passed, he said.

“Before this, I would have had no idea what to do,” DeGiorgio, one of the GOLFTEC coaches, said of the hands-only CPR training.

Now the staff is trained, and they know there’s an AED next door at Pepe’s Pizza, should they ever need to use it. “It’s about being a good neighbor,” David said.

Bill, Michelle, and David Souza, the team at GOLFTEC, and family and friends are grateful to the West Hartford Fire Department, the dispatchers, American Medical Response, and St. Francis Hospital for the positive outcome. “We were lucky,” Bill said.

Any groups interested in hosting a hands-only CPR training should contact Eccles at [email protected].

Mannequins used for hands-only CPR training by the West Hartford Fire Department. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Michelle Souza also brought cupcakes to the hands-only CPR training session held as the celebration of 6 months since her husband was saved by the West Hartford Fire Department. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

CSO Andrew Eccles demonstrates the proper pressure and cadence to be used in performing hands-only CPR during a training program at GOLFTEC on Feb. 10. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Members of the GOLFTEC team are instructed how to perform hands-only CPR. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Members of the GOLFTEC team are instructed how to perform hands-only CPR. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

West Hartford Fire Department CSO Andrew Eccles demonstrates use of an AED during a training at GOLFTEC on Feb. 10, 2023. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

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