RANSON – Thanksgiving is Bruce Moler’s favorite holiday. He enjoys the holiday’s focus on simply gathering with family and friends.
“We’ll have 40 people at our house,” he said. “The majority of them are family.”
Moler, 65, is particularly grateful to be celebrating this year’s Thanksgiving. If not for the swift and skilled action of several medical rescue workers, the lifelong Jefferson County resident says he wouldn’t have survived a stroke he had in August.
“Absolutely,” he said. “No questions about it.”
Moler more than survived his emergency. He’s near fully recovered after 34 days in the hospital, including 18 days when he was in a medically induced coma to help heal his lungs and brain. For 22 days, a machine breathed for him.
“I just have to work on getting my strength back,” he said.
On Monday, the Jefferson County Emergency Services Agency recognized the teamwork of 16 local volunteer and career medical emergency responders that nobody questions saved Moler’s life after his stroke on Aug. 27.
“The effort of the first responders undoubtedly contributed to this patient’s survival,” said Capt. Bob Burner with the JCESA, who presented a commendation to those who provided Moler’s emergency care.
One of those responders that day was Moler’s step-son Brandon McKenzie of Leetown, a volunteer with Independent Fire Co. in Ranson and a career medical emergency responder for Loudoun County, Va.
Ryan Napier, a 28-year-old paid career firefighter paramedic with Jefferson County, was one of those rescue responders who first arrived at the Moler’s home southwest of Charles Town off Summit Point Road.
“We were just cleared from another [911 emergency] call and got alerted to that one and went out,” Napier recalled.
One of Jefferson County’s busiest and most respected medical responders, Napier said Moler’s attack would be one of the most gravely life-threatening emergency calls he has handled all year.
That emergency call came from Moler’s wife, Teresa. She found her husband unconscious in the couple’s driveway that hot summer Saturday evening. Having had a seizure along with a stroke, Moler’s body had “aspirated” from the trauma—and he was suffocating on fluid and partly digested food that had backed up into his lungs.
A diabetic with hypertension, Moler, a semi-retired businessman and a lifelong Jefferson County resident, had been ignoring a headache for the previous four days. He and his wife were contemplating going to an urgent care center for a medical answer to the headache that caused piercing pain before he collapsed.
Moler guessed he might have had an ear infection, but it was spiking blood pressure that would lead to his stroke and other urgent complications. His brain hemorrhaged in a place that was too dangerous for doctors to operate. Medication, time naturally healing and a big dose of hope were his only options for treatment.
While responding to the 911 call, Napier monitored Moler’s medical condition on his mobile phone from notes relayed through the emergency dispatcher. Recognizing Moler’s grave situation, he alerted a medical helicopter evacuation team at Martinsburg Airport to prepare to airlift Moler to an area hospital emergency center.
“You’re never 100 percent certain, but you certainly can put those things together and kind of paint a picture of what’s going on,” Napier said of the dispatcher’s preliminary information.
Only a few moments after arriving at Moler’s home, Napier understood the seriousness of Moler’s condition and called in the helicopter team to the scene. “We had a very limited amount of time to manage [Moler] in the field,” he said.
Immediately treating Moler and transporting him safely by helicopter to INOVA Fairfax Hospital took a team effort.
As many as a dozen emergency medical responders helped airlift Moler safely and swiftly to the hospital from a field at South Jefferson Elementary School.
“No one person can do that by themselves,” Napier explained of the teamwork involved in evacuating Moler. “It has to be done as a team. Everyone knew where they were going and knew what they had to do as far as getting the helicopter landed.”
Napier said Jefferson County’s rescue officials—volunteers and career medical responders working together—train extensively to prepare for such medical airlifts.
Teresa Moler said her husband was swarmed by emergency rescue professionals within 10 minutes after she called 911 for help. They kept her informed and calmed and reassured her about every medical step they took for her husband afterward, she said.
“Everybody was in the right place at the right time that night,” she said.
But Teresa said she is also grateful for the various thoughtful ways the care was given to both her and her husband. She appreciates how the helicopter flight crew told her she could kiss her still-unconscious husband before they flew him away. “We’re going to take good care of him,” she remembers them telling her.
Bruce Moler wonders whether the dreams he recalls from when he was in a coma have any meaning. But he doesn’t remember much of anything before, during and even after his stroke. His wife Teresa has been filling in the many details—sometimes vividly step by step—to try to help them both understand as well as comprehend what happened.
Doctors told Moler that he was among the fewer than 20 percent who survive such a brain hemorrhage. He, Teresa nor any of the medical responders don’t doubt he is a lucky man—and that everything went extraordinarily well that Saturday when a team of medical responders mobilized to save his life.
His brain and breathing functions are back to normal, an outcome that was far from expected.
After 10 days of hospital rehabilitation therapy, Moler returned home on Sept. 29.
Time and again, personally and impersonally, he has witnessed both sides of the randomness of life, he said. “You never know when you’re going to go.”
As with others who have faced close calls with death, Moler said he is keenly aware of the extra time he has been given: The birthday parties since his stroke; his grandson’s ballgames; his relationship with Teresa.
“I look at life completely different,” he said. “I don’t take anything for granted.”
Teresa and Bruce Moler (far left and center) meet Jefferson County paramedic Ryan Napier, who led the successful medical response after Bruce Moler’s stroke on Aug. 27.