Lifesaving lunch: Man thanks Glenwood EMTs | PostIndependent.com

Lifesaving lunch: Man thanks Glenwood EMTs

Peter Harbelis had a close call Saturday and says he wouldn't be alive if it weren't for the quick response from the Glenwood Springs Fire Department.

To thank Glenwood Fire's emergency responders for their lifesaving aid while he was having a heart attack, Harbelis on Thursday helped to keep their stomachs full by bringing barbecue to the firehouse.

He hadn't been feeling well Saturday morning, and when Harbelis was walking to work, his symptoms took a turn for the worse. Luckily the firehouse is on his way to work at the Chocolate Moose. He was passing by the firehouse when he decided that his symptoms needed to be checked out immediately.

Harbelis said it felt like he had a gorilla sitting on his chest, what Glenwood EMTs called classic chest and arm pain that are symptoms of a heart attack. His arm felt like it was tied with a tourniquet and pain shot through his neck and jaw.

"I think it's more painful and scary than people realize," he said Thursday.

The medical responders took his vitals, took information about his pain and symptoms and administered some medication. They also took an EKG reading that showed a cardiac alert, and crews contacted Valley View Hospital to prep a cardiac team for an incoming patient. During all this, the emergency medical crew at the Fire Department was very professional and stayed calm, "which probably helped me stay calm too," said Harbelis. "They did what they do best, which is to save lives."

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At the hospital, a physician told him that he would die that day if he did not undergo surgery, and surgeons ended up putting two stints in his heart.

His cardiac physician determined he had a diabetic heart attack. But Harbelis is lucky. The physicians said he could be looking forward to another 30 to 40 years if he maintains a healthy diet. And another big stipulation is that he has to give up alcohol. But, given the brush with death, Harbelis said it was a pretty easy decision to stop drinking.

"I had an awakening on Saturday," he said.

"I'm very, very lucky to be here. These guys are why I'm here talking to you today," he said. But during the barbecue Thursday, he had to forgo sugar in his tea.

Too often, people who are suffering a heart attack are in denial and wait too long, until it's almost too late, firefighter and paramedic Jess Hood warned.

With his close call in mind, Harbelis is thinking about the upcoming Grand Avenue bridge closure and the traffic blockages that's going to entail.

"These guys are the everyday heros, and they're going to need all the help they can get," he said. He asks drivers during the bridge detour to keep emergency routes clear for responders who may be rushing to save someone's life.

The Fire Department often hears from grateful patients. But not many of them are willing to give out their medical history, so this is above and beyond the thanks that emergency crews usually get, said Fire Chief Gary Tillotson. "And we're glad he's able to be here today."

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