PIGEON FORGE - In his career, Michael Patrick has covered Dollywood too many times to count.
As a photographer for the Knoxville News Sentinel, capturing moments at the theme park was a familiar assignment.
“For me it was a normal day, a Dollywood assignment, which is always fun,” Patrick said.
However, his assignment to visit the park ahead of its opening day would be anything but normal.
“We had, had lunch, shot a show and were headed to the next event,” Patrick said. “I’m told I got there and collapsed, fell to the ground and busted my head open.”
On March 17, Patrick was heading with the media guide to get a sneak peak of Dollywood’s new “Drop Zone” ride, when his heart suddenly stopped.
“I’m still processing the fact that I fell over dead, there’s no way around it. And if it had not been for them being there, trained, prepared, and equipped I would still be,” Patrick said.
Nearby Dollywood employees began administering CPR until park paramedics quickly arrived to take over. One of those helping hands was Andrew Pratt, who works with Dollywood’s medical team as well as a critical care paramedic for the AMR in Knoxville.
“I was responding to the Tennessee Tornado ride, heading down that way for a child that had scraped his knee. They then called to let us know they had a subject that had fallen, didn’t know if he was breathing. I immediately turned back,” Pratt said.
The quick-thinking of trained employees and Pratt’s team ultimately saved Patrick’s life.
“When I got there, three of our Dollywood employees were doing very high quality CPR. They had an AED applied, getting ready to administer a shock,” Pratt said. “After the shock was delivered, I checked for a carotid pulse, strong pulse.”
Patrick later learned his descending aorta was blocked, causing his heart to stop beating. Often called the ‘widow maker’, less than 1 percent who suffer from this type of sudden cardiac arrest survive without any health effects.
“My mind has been boggled by how professional they are. Had I not been there, they told my wife I would have passed," Patrick said. "[I survived] because there were people who were there and knew exactly what to do and did it instantly... didn’t hesitate.”
LIFESTAR delivered him to UT Medical Center, where he spent several days in the hospital. Patrick said he can't remember the first two days he was in the hospital.
Doctors said they could tell the staff at Dollywood are remarkably well trained to administer aid in these kind of life-or-death situations. When they noticed Patrick's rib broken in 3 places, doctors said it was a sure sign of good CPR.
“It’s an old saying in my career: 'If you’re not breaking ribs, you aren’t doing it right,'” Pratt said.
Pratt credits those who jumped to action before he arrived.
“That’s where the praise really goes. People who realized something was going on next to him and started CPR. Without that there’s a chance he would have gotten pulse back, but he would not be talking to you today,” Pratt said.
Pratt encourages everyone to learn CPR and AED training, not just those in the medical profession.
“Dollywood has, I want to say, 40 AEDs. We have them in our ambulances, inside our station, and each ride has one. You can’t walk 20-30 feet and there not be one somewhere,” Pratt said.
After being released, Patrick wanted to express his gratitude to those who helped save his life. He and Pratt were able to meet after Patrick shared a message on Facebook looking for his rescuers.
“I pray for protection for my kids and my grandkids all the time and for me while I’m working, but this is what an angel looks like,” Patrick said of Pratt. “When God sends somebody to answer your prayer in my case—this is what it looks like.”
Patrick will wear a defibrillator for the next 30 days to take reports on his heart. Two weeks later, he’s still in shock over the scare, but now has a new friend who saved his life.
“I fell over and I was dead. If they had not been there, I would still be dead because it took professional action right that minute to save my life," Patrick said. "I don’t know how you would not reach out to find somebody who did that for you.”