August 16th of 2022 began like any other day for Phillip Lunsford. He arrived for work at Evergreen Packaging around 6:40 am and started walking across the parking lot toward the building.
“I was talking with a coworker and I started feeling dizzy,” Phillip said. “I reached out and put two fingers in the chain link fence, and the next thing I knew, I woke up on the ground with a crowd of people around me.” Phillip was in a lot of pain and panicked, unsure of what was happening, when a member of the plant’s Emergency Response Team (ERT) asked “who knows him best?” One of Phillip’s life-long friends spoke up, and the ERT member instructed him to get in close and talk to him. “He actually laid down on the pavement right beside me,” Phillip recalled. “I don’t remember seeing him but I recognized his voice. He told me the ambulance was coming. Then I heard the siren and he said “That’s for you right there. Just lay here for a minute.” What Phillip didn’t know was that his heart had stopped as he fell to the pavement, and members of that fast-acting ERT team had used an electronic defibrillator to shock him back to life. “Once they got me in the ambulance, the pain was so severe I could hardly breathe. That’s when the EMT said ‘You‘ve had a heart attack and you’re still having a heart attack.’ At that point, the ambulance driver hauled butt and took me to what I call Heaven South (Jefferson Regional).”
An outgoing, talkative man who is quick to laugh, Phillip was understandably frightened when he reached the hospital. However, he was reassured by employees in the Emergency Department as they explained how they would check out his heart. “Everyone was great, I have absolutely no complaints,” Phillip said, “but there was one person who really stood out.” He was referring to Tracy Austin, RN, of Jefferson Regional’s Cardiovascular Prep and Recovery Unit (CPRU). Phillip and Tracy met as preparations were being made for his cardiac catheterization. “There was just something about the way Tracy talked with me. She could look at you and just know what you needed to hear. She rolled me up to my room afterward and sat there and talked for a little bit.” It was decided that Phillip needed a defibrillator, and as he was taken to the cath lab, he joked and visited with the transport employees. “They were so friendly, we talked just like buddies, and that helped a lot because I’m always scared when it comes to any kind of surgery. So we got there and, just for a minute, they stepped away, and I started getting really scared again, I guess because I had time to think. Then, out of nowhere Tracy ‘lands,’ I’ll just say that. She saw me, and she could tell. She stopped and took my hand. I’ll be honest, I don’t have a clue what she said, but she talked to me for a few minutes and everything was perfect. I was good, went in and got the defibrillator. I just needed something at that moment and she knew what it was.”
Phillip stayed on 3 North West, Jefferson Regional’s Cardiology unit, from Tuesday until Friday, and was then able to return home to finish recuperating. “After I got out of the hospital, I really wanted to see Tracy again, to let her know how much I appreciated her.” Phillip has friends who work at Jefferson Regional and they arranged for him to drive by and meet her, which was an emotional moment for them both. “I told her ‘Ma’am, I want to hug you, but I don’t want to crush your wings, ‘cause I know they’re back there.”
Two months after the heart attack, Phillip returned to work, acutely aware of just how lucky he had been. “We all know we’re going to die, but until you do it, and get to come back from it, it’s just a different feeling. The ERT saved my life at work, and then my hospital stay was so close to perfect, I couldn’t believe it. Even the environmental staff was great. Every morning, two young ladies would come to clean my room and they never left without asking if I needed anything – Do you want something to drink? Do you need us to get someone for you? That spoke volumes.”
“I’m a hugger,” Phillip continued. “I wish I could line every one of them up and hug them. I’ve been in this hospital several times and always had good experiences. I just happen to think 3 North West is the royalty section.”