On Dec. 1, 2016, Brett Macy died in his dining room.
He went in the room, the most spacious one in the family’s home off Lake Road, after a fun night in St. Albans. His wife, Brenda, said her brother planned to come visit but couldn’t make it, freeing up their evening.
So they signed up for The Running of the Bells, a Santa-costumed fun run through the Franklin County city’s downtown. Carrying Bose speakers, Macy blasted tunes from fellow running friend Carol Ann Jones’ new Christmas album. They sang “Jingle Bells” all the way.
After taking in a storytelling event, they returned home just before 10 p.m. Macy put his things on the counter, and mid-sentence, collapsed on the floor.
It seemed unlikely that Macy, 53 and a runner since high school, was having a heart attack, so when Brenda Macy called 911, she reported her husband had a seizure. Their son, Sam, started chest compressions when he realized his dad wasn’t breathing.
Sam Macy, 24, learned CPR from his days in the Boy Scouts – he even made it to Eagle Scout rank – and just recertified for his previous job as a guide at Big Sky Resort in Montana. He’d only performed the life-saving measure on practice dummies.
He continued until Milton police arrived two minutes later, equipped with an automated external defibrillator. The machine administered two shocks before EMS crews got there. In the ambulance, he got two more. Then another.
It wasn’t until Macy arrived at the emergency room at the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington that he regained consciousness. Doctors still don’t know why Macy suffered sudden cardiac arrest, but they do know Sam saved his father’s life.
“The doctors all just have been crazy about it,” Brenda Macy said. “It gets embarrassing after a while.”
Sam Macy agrees, saying he did what anyone would in the situation.
But an outcome like Macy’s is rare, Milton Rescue chief Don Turner said, especially since after a week in the hospital, doctors released him without any restrictions. His first meal back home was pulled pork, something Brenda Macy is sure most on the cardiac wing can’t eat.
Statistics support doctors’ praise for Sam. According to the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation, a nonprofit that raises awareness about the condition, only one-third of SCA patients receive CPR from bystanders before EMS arrives. For every minute without CPR and defibrillation, the patient’s survival rate decreases by up to 10 percent. Even then, a victim only has a 38 percent chance to live.
Turner said the save was a perfect example of the “chain of survival” at work. Used by EMTs, the term encompasses the five-step process to treat emergency heart conditions, starting with recognizing the condition and ending with post-arrest care.
“In most cases, the timing doesn’t work out for the patient, and one of these things gets broken,” Turner said, especially noting Vermont’s rural nature. “If there’s a link missing anywhere, the likelihood of survival is not very likely.”
For Brenda Macy, too, all the right factors were in alignment that night. Everyone was home, awake and ready to respond.
“It could have been a different ending,” she said, looking at Macy. “Big stuff doesn’t happen to us. I mean, granted, OK, you died in the dining room, but other than that, big stuff doesn’t happen. We just roll with it.”
For now, Macy – equipped with an internal defibrillator – is in recovery mode as he awaits stress tests and cardiac rehab. He hasn’t put in many hours at the family’s store, Exit 18 Equipment in Georgia, and his weekly runs with the Arrowhead Trail Running Series are on pause. The 20-mile-a-week runner has relegated himself to short walks around the block.
The incident has taught the family anything can happen – and that everyone should know CPR. Team Arrowhead runners plan to host a training clinic at Exit 18 in the near future.
Turner was pleased to hear it, noting the effort aligns with Milton Rescue’s recent application to become a designated Heart Safe Community, a coordinated project among emergency services, schools and businesses to strengthen the chain of survival nationwide.
Steps include providing more CPR training – the department trained 200 people last year – and installing more AEDs in town, assistant rescue chief Rod Moore said. There are 14 known machines within Milton’s borders, including two on ambulances, two in police cruisers and one on a fire truck.
The state is still reviewing the town’s application.
“This save is the reason we have been working and talking about this for so long,” Turner said. “We just have to have outcomes like this – we can say if we didn’t have this, [Macy] would be gone. I’ve done CPR three times and never had anybody live.”
Milton Rescue will recognize the Macy family and the first responders who assisted on scene. That news might elicit a shudder from Sam, who is ready to be out of the spotlight.
“We’ve been talking about it for a month. I’m ready to go back to just normal old us,” he said last week, deflecting the praise to emergency responders.
“They save lives every day,” his mom said.
Macy remembers nothing about December 1, and for the record, can’t recall a light at the end of a tunnel. That came later, when he returned home.
“All the people helping us out and bringing the food and decorating the house – just so many people – that was the light that I saw,” he said. “It’s our Christmas miracle.”