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Quick Responders Combine to Save Friend’s Life

Jul 06, 2016 08:29AM ● Published by Bryan Scott

Tom Roberson (left) stands next to friend and neighbor Jim Knutson a few weeks after Knutson went into cardiac arrest during church. Roberson, along with three others, worked fast using chest compressions and an automatic external defibrillator to save Knutson’s life. —Travis Barton

Gallery: Quick Responders Combine to Save Friend’s Life [2 Images] Click any image to expand.

By Travis Barton | travis@mycityjournals.com


A retired firefighter, physical therapist and dentist walk into a church. It sounds like the start of a bad joke when in actuality, it saved a man’s life.

On May 22 while sitting in church, Jim Knutson suddenly collapsed into cardiac arrest when Tom Roberson, a retired firefighter and Salt Lake City Battalion Chief, leapt into action with the help of Ron Voorhees, Barry Olsen and Andrew Hutchison.

“People knew what I’d done for a living and were saying to me ‘get up here quick, Jim’s having a seizure,’ and when I got there I knew it wasn’t a seizure, he was going into cardiac arrest,” Roberson said.

Roberson started chest compressions while Olsen administered mouth to mouth as someone called 911. As it happened, the building had an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) put in the building five years previously and Voorhees ran to grab it.

“[Voorhees] ran to grab [the AED]…he came back and said ‘hey do you wanna use this,’ and I said ‘yeah,” Roberson said.

Hutchison applied the AED to Knutson’s chest and shocked him, within a minute he regained consciousness and was talking to everyone before the medics arrived. He continued communicating with the paramedics on the way to the hospital. Knutson even felt well enough to go home that same night.

“After I relaxed and everything I felt great, I felt like there was nothing wrong or nothing happened,” Knutson said.

On May 25, Knutson underwent a quadruple bypass. By June 8 he had returned home and was already walking around the block. Knutson said his blood pressure still needs to level out and only recently has his hunger returned.

“The doctor told him that if he has this surgery, it has a 98% chance of being effective, if you don’t there’s a 100% chance you’ll have another cardiac arrest,” Roberson, who volunteers at a medical clinic in Midvale, said. “Those are interesting odds.”

Knutson said his memory of the event is mostly hazy.

“I remember sitting down on the bench talking to a couple people…I kinda remember being pushed out the chapel doors, I kinda came to once in the ambulance…then I remember waking up in the emergency room,” Knutson said.

Roberson, who has 41 years’ experience as a firefighter and 22 years as a flight medic, said this was unique since he knew the patient.

“It’s different working on somebody you know real well,” Roberson said. Roberson and Knutson have been friends for 20 years.

“This guy [Roberson] saved my life,” Knutson said. “Tom keeps saying it wasn’t him but it was him knowing what he was doing plus being guided by the Lord. I think the both of them worked together.”

Knutson said he was so grateful for the help received from these four guys and that their quick actions have made his recovery possible.

“That’s probably why I felt so good in the hospital that evening since there wasn’t that elapsed time so things didn’t have time to deteriorate,” Knutson said. “Just having the right people there at the right time made it great.”

AEDs, which were first developed for the public during the 1920’s, was essential to saving Knutson, Roberson said.

“It saved this guy’s life that’s for sure, there was a noticeable change after we defibrillated him,” Roberson said.

Having AEDs readily accessible can raise the number of patients saved in cardiac arrest to 40% versus the 10% saved by CPR alone.

Not only through his work experience was Roberson prepared for this scenario. A few weeks prior, Roberson had been teaching his grandkids CPR.  

“It wasn’t an accident,” Roberson said. λ

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