Saved by angels

Runner meets those who saved his life
By: Nick Pecoraro/Telegraph Correspondent
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It’s not every day that one can say that they’ve had the chance to meet their guardian angel. On Thursday afternoon in a small conference room at Mercy Folsom Hospital, Walt Lytle had the privilege of doing precisely that. Let’s rewind back half a year to Sunday, June 6. Lytle, 48, a construction company owner and fervent runner from Elk Grove, called his friend and running partner Joe Souza to go out for a run that morning. What was planned to be a 14-mile run beginning at the Nimbus Hatchery took a turn for the worse around the nine-mile point. After reaching the Negro Bar area of the American River Trail, Lytle told his friend that he would slow down and walk for a while. Seconds later, Lytle collapsed. He was under cardiac arrest and had stopped breathing before a pair of cyclists came across his nearly lifeless body and decided to intervene. Heidi Napier, 61, a veterinarian from Cameron Park, and Shannon Beretta, 40, a physical therapist from El Dorado Hills, were on a group bike ride when they discovered Lytle and began to perform CPR. “I saw him lying there and all I thought was ‘get on it’,” explains Napier. “It was just like we did what we needed to do. We did what we were trained to do. I don’t even remember getting off my bike,” said Beretta, who in her 20 plus years as a healthcare worker had never needed to apply CPR until that day. Paramedics from the Folsom Fire Department arrived shortly after and continued to work on Lytle en route to Mercy Folsom, where a crew of doctors took over. “When they brought him in, he was comatose; he was unresponsive,” said Dr. Michael Chang, one of the cardiologists at Mercy Folsom who helped preserve Lytle’s life. Lytle then received hypothermia therapy designed to prevent any possible brain damage that could happen after the heart stops beating. He was then transferred to Mercy General Hospital in Sacramento, where doctors continued the hypothermia treatment and inserted a stint to prevent further blockage in his artery. After three days in a coma and with his family expecting the worst, Walt miraculously came to. “The day that I found out that Walt had survived, it was one of the highlights of my life,” said Napier. “It was just thrilling.” “When we left, I honestly didn’t think he was going to make it just from what I saw,” said Beretta. “Then we heard about a week later that he made it and it was one of the best days of our lives.” Fast-forward six months to Thursday, Dec. 16. In a room filled with family members, reporters, paramedics, doctors and numerous hospital staff members, Lytle revisited Mercy Folsom for an opportunity to meet each one of his rescuers in person for the first time. “I feel I’m very blessed to be here and it’s because of a lot of people in this room. I think it’s somewhat of a celebration of life for me today,” said an appreciative Lytle, who continues to run and says that he is running faster now than ever before. In fact, since his episode in June, Lytle has completed the half marathon at the California International Marathon earlier this month and took first place in his age group during the Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot. Both feats echo exceptionally remarkable volumes of Lytle’s recovery — especially when Mercy Folsom President Don Hudson cited that only one-in-10 victims recover from a heart attack suffered outside the hospital. Both Napier and Beretta —whom Lytle’s wife Cindy called “their guardian angels” — were rewarded by Sacramento County Supervisor Roberta MacGlashan with proclamations and plaques for their efforts in helping save the life of a complete stranger. Lytle went on to say that the actions of his rescuers taught him an important lesson. “Take a moment, see what’s going on and help if you can,” he said. He added, “One thing that we need to remember is that I was alive when this started and I’m alive now. I do realize it was a miracle of things that took place and I’m very blessed to be here.”