When Gretchen Ruff called 911 on the night of Aug. 25, the three short minutes it took for first responders to arrive at her Battle Ground home felt like a lifetime.
Her husband, Brad Ruff, 58, was in cardiac arrest. At first, she thought he had fainted and would come to, but it didn’t take long for her to realize something serious was wrong. She checked his pulse and immediately began compressions.
“As a nurse, it’s scary when it’s not your family member, but when it is, that’s terrifying,” said Gretchen Ruff, 51. “I was screaming and crying, and I felt his ribs break, but I knew I had to keep going.”
When paramedics arrived, they took over on compressions, and after eight minutes of CPR, Brad Ruff was resuscitated. They rushed him to a local hospital. After 15 days there, he made a full recovery.
One month after the incident, on a rainy Monday afternoon, Brad Ruff and his family gathered at Clark County Fire District 3 Station 35 to thank the first responders who had a role in saving his life. Collectively, his wife, Fire District 3, the Battle Ground Police Department and American Medical Response aided in his on-scene treatment, stabilization and transportation.
“In our line of profession, it’s a rare event to see the culmination of our efforts. We don’t get to see full closure,” District 3 Division Chief Jason Mansfield said. “All of us have to come together in order to have a successful outcome.”
Gretchen Ruff handed out cookies. Hugs were exchanged. And some tears were shed.
As a retired police officer for the San Diego Police Department, Brad Ruff understood firsthand the rarity of such an event.
“Some calls end positively and some end in despair, but this whole thing was different,” Brad Ruff said. “Today marks 30 days since you all saved me, and I cannot thank you enough.”
Chris Drone, District 3 division chief, later presented Gretchen Ruff with the Life Saving Award. She humbly accepted and spoke on the importance of CPR training.
“Another thing I want to push is to please learn CPR,” she said. “Fortunately, my nurse brain kicked in, and I knew what I needed to do. But get a refresher and learn how to do it, because the sooner you can get started, it’s going to be a better outcome.”
Brad Ruff carried with him a framed chart of his heart activity at the time of the incident. It is a reminder of the positive outcome because of each person’s combined efforts.
“Never before was I the person whose life might end,” he said. “I just feel like I just got lucky with this whole thing.”
This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.