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When a Grand Forks man stopped breathing, police acted fast to save his life

A Grand Forks man became unresponsive during dinner in his Grand Forks home last August. Grand Forks officers revived him with a defibrillator and kept him alive until paramedics could arrive.

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A Grand Forks Police Department squad car, pictured at an incident in April 2021. Grand Forks Herald photo.
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Grand Forks police officers didn't know what exactly they were walking into when they entered the Walnut Street residence last August, but they did know that on the 911 call, dispatchers could hear someone screaming.

Officer Konstantine Muller said when he and two other officers arrived at the 300 block of Walnut Street, witnesses pointed them toward the sound of the screaming, where a woman waved the officers inside her home.

The woman said her husband had become unresponsive during dinner.

"They weren't sure what was going on," Muller recalled. "When we got in there, Bill was sitting upright on the couch. He wasn't breathing. We couldn't find a very strong pulse. So I told (Cpl. Dana Plorin) to run to the car and grab the AED."

Muller moved the man to the floor and began giving chest compressions. At that point, they had no idea what could be afflicting him. In light of a recent spike in overdoses in the community, officers administered a dose of Narcan, but it didn't appear to help him at all.

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When Plorin arrived with the AED, which every officer brings with them in their patrol car for their shift, Muller and Cpl. Kyle Misialek, began placing the pads on the man's chest.

"Once we got those set up, the AED began doing its thing and essentially said 'shock advised,' which kind of took me by surprised," Muller said. "Out of all the times I've hooked up an AED to somebody, it's never really said 'shock advised,' it usually just says to continue doing chest compressions."

So officers cleared from the body and administered a shock. Shortly after, firefighters arrived on scene with their own AED and took the man's vitals, when they detected a very faint pulse. When paramedics arrived, the man was transported to the hospital.

The man and his wife couldn't be reached for this story, but Muller said his understanding after the fact was that he had suffered some kind of heart complication, and after undergoing some procedures, he is now recovered and back at home.

Lt. Travis Benson, who oversees the GFPD's Uniform Patrol Bureau, said it's rare that someone is successfully revived by police AEDs. He estimates police use their AEDs about once a month, and they result in a save roughly once or twice a year.

Often, despite best efforts, there's nothing anyone can do to help the person, he said. For those who have a chance, however, survival often comes down to seconds.

"Sometimes it's just the speed that everything can get going with CPR and the AED," he said. "Oftentimes, it takes several minutes before somebody recognizes that person is having a medical emergency. That's probably the biggest thing. So the quicker CPR and the AED are used, the better the odds of survival."

GFPD officers have carried AEDs for several years, but they were recently replaced thanks to a grant from Helmsley Charitable Trust that put 1,700 AEDs in patrol cars across North Dakota.

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Helmsley Charitable Trust trustee Walter Panzirer, a former law enforcement officer and paramedic, said he's seen firsthand the value of having easily accessible AEDs during a medical emergency.

"Law enforcement officers, they're out there already," he said. "They can sometimes beat ambulances by 10, 15 minutes, or even more in some places if you go to more rural places, and getting these victims to these devices could end up saving their lives."

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Hannah Shirley covers crime, courts and criminal justice for the Grand Forks Herald. She is a 2018 graduate of the University of Idaho and has lived and worked in Grand Forks since 2019. Prior to moving to North Dakota, she worked as a reporter for the Berkshire Record in Great Barrington, Mass., a receptionist for the Moscow-Pullman Daily News in Moscow, Idaho, and a barista in a New York City coffee shop. She can be reached by phone at (701) 780-1267 or by email at hshirley@gfherald.com.
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