For the past 36 years, Lemont resident Maxine Splitt has lived just yards away from the Lemont Fire Protection District's Station One on New Avenue.
Splitt, 74, has gotten to know her firefighter neighbors pretty well over the years. In 2005, crews responded to an electrical fire that posed a serious threat to her life and home.
However, Splitt's proximity to the fire station was never more crucial than it was on May 31, 2012, the day she went into cardiac arrest.
Just after 7 a.m., Splitt suddenly went unconscious while sitting in her living room with her sister, Lemont resident Mary Beth Splitt.
"I don't remember anything about what happened, but my sister said I just fell back in my chair and stopped breathing," Maxine said.
Mary Beth called 911, and within just three minutes a crew from Station One was at Maxine's door.
Upon arrival, firefighter/paramedics Steve Frank and Jeff Bailey immediately moved Maxine to the floor and began performing CPR. She had ventricular fibrillation, an abnormal heart rhythm that stops blood from pumping to the body.
Frank and Bailey used a defibrillator to shock her heart, but Maxine flatlined.
"At that point we moved her to the ambulance to start advanced life support," Frank said.
The paramedics started an IV line to give Maxine the first round of drugs, and continued CPR to help with circulation. Miraculously, she began to respond.
"It was pretty amazing. We haven't seen anyone come back from something like that in probably 10 years," said Battalion Chief Dave Slivinski, who also responded to the scene with Lt. Dave Bettenhausen.
As Maxine's heart rhythm stabilized, blood began to flow and she started breathing on her own.
"She converted on her own, which is ultimately what we hope for," Slivinski said.
By 7:30 a.m., Maxine was transported to Adventist Bolingbrook Hospital, where she spent nine days in recovery. She spent an additional two weeks in therapy before she was considered "back to normal."
According to Slivinski, the key to Maxine's recovery was the response time of paramedics, combined with a little bit of luck.
"The difference between life and death is just a matter of minutes sometimes, so the fact that she lives right in front of the station really saved her in this case," Slivinski said. "The other important factor was her sister being there when it happened. Had she been alone, I don't know that we would have had the same outcome."
As for what caused the incident, Maxine said her doctors aren't sure. She had no exisiting heart conditions, and has always lived a healthy, active lifestyle.
"I hadn't been feeling too well, but I had no reason to think it was my heart or that something like that would happen," she said.
By the summer, the crew at Station One could see Maxine working in her backyard.
"We don't often get to see the final outcome with patients like Maxine, so it was cool to see her out raking leaves and moving around," Bettenhausen said.
Maxine said she has a new lease on life, and considers herself "extremely lucky" to have recovered.
"I'm very thankful to both my sister and the Lemont firefighters who saved my life," she said. "You never know when something like that might happen, so I suppose I was fortunate to be living right next to Station One."
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