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The Lifeline

Bringing you the best local stories in and around our community.

There In A Heartbeat

Featured Photo from There In A Heartbeat

Our own Hedy Bass was there as fates aligned to save a local man’s life.

In early March, Chief Frank Cornier of the Lake Mary Fire Department called the Lake Mary Life office. He had a great story for us. It involved the Lake Mary Fire Department, the Sanford Fire Department, an off-duty Seminole County deputy, his wife who was an experienced ICU nurse, and even an Oviedo police officer.

 “The whole system worked beautifully,” Chief Cornier said as he described the amazing twists of fate and picture-perfect response that all came together to save someone’s life.

Saturday, February 9
I’m leaving Sam’s Club in Sanford with my oversized purchases. I need to get home soon. It’s my birthday, and a friend has invited me to dinner to celebrate. There’s so much to do before then.

As I load my packages into the car, I’m startled by a cacophony of screaming sirens I hear coming from opposite directions off Rinehart Road. Two large fire trucks – one from the City of Lake Mary, the other from the City of Sanford – are rapidly approaching the Sam’s Club parking lot from the north and south entrances. With no sign of smoke or fire, I wonder what has prompted the response from not one, but two firehouses.  Everything seemed normal when I walked out of the store a few seconds ago. I wait in my car, making sure not to impede the efforts of the responders. Suddenly, I catch a glimpse in my rearview mirror of a Lake Mary ambulance a few aisles away. What is going on? I’d never seen a response like this before. How did so many firefighters and other rescue personnel all arrive at the same place – in unison – so quickly. It was an amazing coincidence, I thought. Turns out, I didn’t know the half of it.

A Sudden Knock at the Door
Denice Breen and her children were going about their Saturday. Her son was having lunch with a friend, and her daughter was walking the dog. All was well. A sudden knock at the door soon changed everything. An Oviedo police officer was there to tell Denice the unthinkable: her husband was in the emergency room at Central Florida Regional Hospital. She needed to get over there right away. No further details were provided.

It was the following Monday before Larry regained consciousness. He had no idea what happened or how he wound up in a hospital. It was Denice who put the pieces of the puzzle together for him, explaining how he fell at Sam’s Club and how a deputy and his wife and other first responders – many of whom just happened to be at or near the store at the time – brought him to the ER. She related the story of the terrifying knock at the door, how despite her fears she found the strength to stay calm and focus on their children and his care. To Larry’s chagrin, Denice also reported what a challenging patient he had been, trying to pull out his ventilation tube while barely conscious. Larry remembered none of it.

Larry was discharged from the hospital on Valentine’s Day. The symbolism of that date isn’t lost on him or Denice.

“That I didn’t die is a blessing,” says Larry, who has made a remarkable recovery and has since returned to his full work schedule. “By the grace of God, Kyle and Kelly drove by, and first responders were on the scene to get me to the hospital. All of them were incredible.”

“These people who saved my husband,” says Denice, “they are our heroes.”

The Deputy, the Nurse, and a Citizen’s Arrest
Also shopping at Sam’s Club that day were Kyle Nickell, an off-duty Seminole County Sheriff’s deputy, and his wife Kelly, a registered nurse. Just as I was packing my car, they were pulling in and searching for a parking space. Kelly had just taken a recertification class on advanced cardiac life support training that morning. Now, it was time for the two to enjoy the weekend and get a little shopping done. Or so they thought.

As Kyle was about to pull into a parking space, he spotted a man on the ground. As a trained deputy would, Kyle told Kelly to stay in the car while he assessed the scene. The man was unconscious, bleeding, and appeared not to be breathing. Kyle immediately started CPR but called Kelly to take over while he dialed 911.

“He was in agonal breathing,” explains Kelly, who worked in a hospital ICU for many years and recognized that the man was in sudden cardiac arrest. “His body was shutting down, and it was only a matter of minutes before brain damage and permanent effects would set in.” 

Even with CPR, Larry’s chances for survival were minimal. When someone suffers a full cardiac arrest outside the hospital, the survival rate is only about 10 percent without CPR and 35 percent with it.

Only seconds after Kyle had called 911, Sanford Fire Department Engine 38 was on the scene. The Sanford crew immediately started taking turns with Kyle and Kelly to continue CPR until medics with Lake Mary Rescue Unit 37 arrived to treat the patient and take him to the emergency room.

How did the Sanford Engine get there so quickly? Turns out, only minutes before, Engine 38 had responded to a false mechanical fire alarm at a business adjacent to the Sam’s Club. The fire truck was driving away when it was suddenly called right back to the parking lot. The Lake Mary Rescue Unit was right behind, and within minutes, the patient was inside the Central Florida Regional Hospital ER under the care of Dr. Christina DeAngelis.

The Best-Laid Plans
The patient’s name is Larry Breen, a 57-year-old Chuluota resident and Lake Mary businessman. He kicked off his weekend on Friday night by attending a Solar Bears game with his family. The next morning, he left home to go to the gym for a spin class – one hour, 20 miles, and 1,000 calories – (Larry’s self-imposed metrics for a good workout), followed by 20 minutes of stretches while his body was warm and limber. Larry went home, showered, and changed. He told his wife, Denice, he was heading to Lake Mary to get some work done at the office, but not before dutifully taking her honey-do list with him for some shopping at Sam’s Club.

Larry, a certified financial advisor, likes going to his Lake Mary office on Saturdays. The building is essentially deserted, giving him priceless productive time to focus on work with minimal interruptions. After taking care of business, he set out for Sam’s Club.

Larry had parked his car at Sam’s. He didn’t notice the Sanford fire truck that was responding to the nearby false alarm. Nor could he have known about the deputy and the nurse who were pulling in about the same time he did. And little did he know, of course, they were all about to save his life.

Larry got out of his car, but he never made it into the store. He immediately collapsed to the pavement, hitting the back of his head so hard that blood began pooling around his suddenly-still body.

“If we had caught one more traffic light or gone down another aisle, the outcome could have been very different,” says Kyle.

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