March 7, 2008

Death renews man's lease on life

They say dead men tell no tales. Well, all I can say is that "they" never met Ron Yarnell, who died Oct. 13, 2007, but lived to talk about it.

They say dead men tell no tales.

Well, all I can say is that "they" never met Ron Yarnell, who died Oct. 13, 2007, but lived to talk about it.

"We don't give him much slack," said Manny Juarez of his friend and neighbor. "He's pretty quick with the comebacks. It's good we can laugh about it now."

No one was laughing much five months ago, when Ron suffered a massive heart attack just as he was about to enjoy a drink with Manny.

Ron, a retired shipping supervisor for Tri Valley Growers, had walked down the street to Manny's place. He was just making himself comfortable in a lawn chair when Manny handed him a cold beverage.

"He just fell back in his chair and dropped his drink," said Manny. "I said, 'Ron. Ron! Is something wrong?' "

Ron was unable to respond.

For an instant, Manny thought his friend might be pulling a prank.

But this was no joke.

At that realization, Manny felt a rush of panic sweep over him. He ran to find help. Then he ran back to his stricken friend.

"We had trouble getting him out of his chair," Manny said. "Once we did, we rolled him onto the grass. I don't know much about CPR, just stuff I've seen on television.

"We got his head raised and I started chest compressions."

Manny's wife, Kathy, called 911.

The dispatcher gave her instructions, which she relayed to her husband.

"It probably only was two or three minutes before the ambulance got here," Manny said. "It felt like forever."

Manny grew quiet for a moment while recalling that day.

Ron, sitting in a lawn chair near the end of friend David Quesenberry's driveway, shot a smile at Manny. Everyone had gathered at Quesenberry's recently for the retelling of the tale Pepper Tree Lane never will forget.

"You know, the doctor at the hospital said if it hadn't been for him," said Ron, looking over at Manny, "I wouldn't be here."

M anny seemed a bit uncomfortable.

"I stayed as calm as I could," he said. "I'm just glad I was there. (But) I'm sure anybody else would have done the same thing."

As vital a role as Manny played, the quick work of first responders from the Modesto Fire Department and American Medical Response was crucial to Ron's survival.

Even the professionals are amazed at the extent of his recovery.

"He was not breathing when our crew got there," said Mike Corbin, AMR's clinical education manager. "There were no pulses. CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) was started."

Paramedic Leon Kurbatsky said Ron was drawing what looked to be his last breath as he and his partner arrived.

"His breathing was slow," Kurbatsky said. "As I walked up, he took, maybe one breath. Have you ever seen a fish out of water? They take a deep shallow breath and let it out very slowly. That's what it was like."

When a human displays that type of breathing, death is close at hand.

Kurbatsky and emergency medical technician Kelly Morse wasted no time.

"I just remember that everything went perfectly with that call," Kurbatsky said. "Not much talking; everyone knew what needed to be done."

They took over administering CPR to Ron and, in short order, inserted a tube to help him breathe easier. Later, Kurbatsky and Morse administered an electric shock in the hope of restarting Ron's heart.

After working on him for about six minutes, Ron began his comeback as the AMR ambulance headed toward Memorial Medical Center.

At the time, however, no one, including Kurbatsky, anticipated just how much of a comeback Ron would make.

Kurbatsky said Ron had been deprived of oxygen for at least a couple of minutes, maybe more.

That's a long time.

Kurbatsky said he wouldn't have been surprised to learn that Ron, if he survived at all, was in a persistent semivegetative state — unable to breathe on his own.

So, Kurbatsky was more than a little shocked by the news that not only was Ron at home, and breathing on his own, but getting around town by himself as well.

"My supervisor told me he's driving," Kurbatsky said Wednesday. "I said, 'No way!' It's awesome! I've never encountered anything like this."

Ron's wife, Earline, waited for a Bee videographer to leave before joining the group near the end of Quesenberry's driveway.

She quickly took up a position behind the lawn chair in which her husband of 43-plus years was sitting.

"It was so traumatic when it happened," she said. "When I pulled up in the car and saw him laying there, he already was blue. Then he was in the hospital for so long."

As she spoke, Earline leaned over, wrapped her arms around her husband and gave him a big hug.

"Thank God," she said. "We've got him."

Ron said he never was a particularly religious man before the heart attack but admits he's thinking about a lot of things now.

"It got everyone thinking," Manny said.

Not only did Ron survive the initial heart attack, he also made it through bypass surgery and a post-operative blood clot episode that pushed him to the brink once more.

In all, he spent 36 days in the hospital — unconscious most of that time.

"When I finally woke up and knew what I was doing," he said, "I was craving a beer."

These days, however, he's learning to live without beer and cigarettes.

He's also dropped 46 pounds.

"This is my beer, now," said Ron, smiling as he raised a water bottle into the air. "But I'm thinking about rum and coke. The doctor didn't say nothing about not drinking rum."

But his biggest concern, at least for the moment, is getting ready for next month's bass fishing tournament.

"I'll be there," he promised.

I wouldn't bet against him.

Mike Mooney's column appears every Friday in Local News. He can be reached at mmooney@modbee.com or 578-2384.

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