Despite those long odds, however, Hillard, 28, was released from medical care Friday and reunited with his family in large part due to the Hawkins County EMTs and emergency room nurses who performed CPR on him for a total of 109 minutes the day he was found barely clinging onto life.
Hillard, who remembers little of what he endured after coming out of a nearly four-day coma Jan. 4, said he was overwhelmed by the work done to keep him alive.
“It’s been amazing, I feel like I’ve been reborn,” Hillard said Saturday morning following a reunion with those who saved his life. “I can’t be thankful enough to these people, what they’ve done is amazing. To say it’s overwhelming is an understatement. I couldn’t put it to words what it feels like.”
Hillard’s mother, Bonnie Guenzel, echoed the sentiments her son had expressed.
“We’re so grateful,” said Guenzel, who lives in Bucks County, Pa. “God’s given us another chance with him. It was just the power of prayer.”
“I don’t know how they do what they do day after day, it’s amazing,” Guenzel continued. “The level of care at the hospital, the nurses, they are fantastic. They treated him like he was family... it was just phenomenal. They made us feel comfortable, anything we needed, it was absolutely amazing.”
Medical personnel who worked to resuscitate Hillard said they were amazed to see him alive, much less up and walking, just 11 days after he went 109 minutes without a heartbeat.
“I’ve been doing this for 16 years,” Hawkins County EMS Supervisor Wayne Elam said. “I’ve never seen anyone survive after something like this.”
Elam, who was among the first emergency personnel to respond to the New Year’s Day call of an unresponsive person, said Hillard was found lying in water in a muddy ravine beside his Bulls Gap property.
Hillard had reportedly told his family he was feeling ill in the days prior to his apparent collapse, the cause of which was undetermined, Elam said.
Because of the inclement weather at the time and the location of the ravine, Elam said a nearby resident, Leonard Eidson, had to use his New Holland tractor to pull the ambulance to and from the exact area where Hillard was located.
Just five minutes after the ambulance was pulled onto the road Hillard went into cardiac arrest and was effectively dead, Elam said.
“We just tried as much as we could in our unit to warm him up and do CPR,” Elam said. “We just tried to get his body temperature up to somewhere near normal.”
It was at that point that members of Elam’s crew, and later a team of three emergency room nurses as Hawkins County Memorial Hospital, began a nearly two-hour session of nonstop CPR in a desperate attempt to save Hillard’s life.
Hawkins County ER nurse Beth Mann, who along with fellow nurses Meredith Broome and Josh Davis took turns performing CPR, said the work was exhausting.
“We did CPR, gave him a lot of medicines to restart his heart, and we used a defibrillator to shock his heart back into rhythm,” Mann said. “That’s what we did for over two hours nonstop. It was just a constant rotation ... and the rewarming was a constant process.”
Hillard’s heart began to beat again after nearly two hours of work, although he was still in a nonresponsive state, Mann said.
Once he was stabilized in the ER, Hillard was transported to Holston Valley Medical Center in Kingsport for a higher level of care. After nearly four days of treatment in Holston Valley’s intensive care, Hillard finally awoke from his coma.
Guenzel said at one point she wasn’t sure if her son would ever wake up.
“They wouldn’t tell us if he was going to wake up,” Guenzel said. “The whole time I kept saying are we to the point of ‘when’ yet, and they would say ‘No, we’re still at “if”.’ We don’t know how he woke up because he was still sedated. We just walked in one morning and said ‘good morning David’ and he started trying to wake up.”
Mann said she and her fellow nurses were in a state of disbelief when they found out that Hillard had recovered enough to regain consciousness.
“If you had asked me that night, this would not have been the scenario I would have picked,” Mann said. “No way. But this is why we got into nursing. This is our job and to see somebody walk back and know they have so many more years to live, and to think you’re part of the reason why, is overwhelming.”
Hillard is expected to make a full recovery from his ordeal now that he has been discharged from the hospital, although Guenzel said he would still need to undergo dialysis treatment due to damage sustained by his kidneys.
Elam said Hillard was able to get to the point where he can recover because a variety of different factors came together perfectly during the race to keep him alive.
“EMS, the rescue squad, the Bulls Gap Volunteer Fire Department, neighbors, the emergency room staff,” Elam said, “it took all of those people to do this.
“This is just something you don’t see. I’m supervisor over my crew and I’m so impressed with how everybody worked together and coordinated with each other. It just amazes me and everything fell together perfectly.”
Elam said hospital officials were also trying to determine if a record had been set for the longest successful administration of CPR.