Authorities said Steve J. Smith probably would have died Friday morning if first responders had not been near.
A man who crashed his SUV into a snowbank along Hwy. 169 Friday morning while suffering an apparent heart attack survived thanks to an uncanny stroke of luck: several cars behind him was a state highway services truck with an onboard defibrillator.
Soon Steve J. Smith lay flat on his back on the highway, his shirt stripped away while two rescuers worked frantically. Several touch-and-go minutes later, his pulse returned and he started to breathe again on his own. He spent the rest of the day recovering in a hospital.
"We had a little action there," said Julie Todora, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) employee. For 12 years she's driven one of the department's FIRST trucks, a bright green pickup equipped with emergency supplies. Up to ten of the trucks at a time patrol Twin Cities freeways.
At 8:15 a.m. on Friday, Todora was heading north on 169 on a predetermined route when she noticed a truck up ahead veer off the road near the Cedar Lake Road intersection.
"When I got up there, there was a witness who had tried to call 911, saying he was unconscious," said Todora.
The stricken man was alone in his SUV. He wore a name tag that said Steve. He wasn't breathing and had no pulse.
Seconds after Todora arrived, another rescuer joined her, volunteer firefighter Andy Hutson who had been on his way to his IT job at General Mills.
"I was about ten cars behind the gentleman when he crashed," he said. "I saw snow fly."
Hutson grabbed a medical bag from the back of his truck while Todora backed her pickup into the northbound lane of traffic. She flipped on an onboard electronic sign with a large arrow directing rush hour traffic to go around them. Todora next grabbed an automated external defibrillator from her truck. The purse-sized machine can jolt a person's heart back into natural rhythm. MnDOT drivers began carrying them four years ago.
"I shocked him," said Todora. "We didn't feel a pulse."
The machine, which connects to heart attack victims via two pads placed on their chest, reads the patient's condition and advises rescuers to either shock the patient or administer CPR.
For the next several minutes, with occasional breaks to get another reading from the defibrillator, Todora and Hutson gave CPR and mouth-to-mouth breathing to Smith.
The first sign that Smith might survive came when he started to gasp for air.
A Minnesota State Patrol trooper showed up and handed the rescuers a device for keeping Smith's airway open.
Eight minutes into the emergency, St. Louis Park firefighters began to arrive, alerted by 911 calls from passing drivers.
By then Smith had a strong pulse, said Rodger Coppa, acting lieutenant of the St. Louis Park Fire Department. Less than a minute later, an ambulance arrived. Smith was loaded aboard and taken to Park Nicollet Methodist hospital, where he was recuperating Friday evening.
"When they put him on the stretcher he was moaning and groaning," said Todora, "which I thought was a fantastic sign."
Matt McKinney • 612-217-1747