Editor’s note: The story has been updated to reflect that the use of the word “code” by an EMT can be misinterpreted by a lay person.
See the smiling man pictured above. Name’s Jerry Fite. He’s 70 years old, a Holmes County native now retired and living in Madison. He is one fortunate man, as you will learn.
Jerry works out five or six times a week, lifts weights, puts in his time on the treadmill and elliptical machines. Stays in shape. Who would have thought he had 95 percent blockage in one of his main arteries, the one they call the widow-maker? Nobody, that’s who. Certainly not Jerry.
He had just finished a morning workout Monday and was leisurely driving on Lake Harbour Drive in Ridgeland. He has no memory of what happened next, which was a heart attack.
Somehow, he got his car pulled into the median. It was still running but Jerry was unconscious. A woman pulled over with her daughter and tried to get his attention. Not a chance. She tried to open the door. It was locked. The daughter was frantic. The woman started trying to wave down people in traffic to help. She had the presence of mind to call 9-1-1.
And that’s when the woman you see pictured here passed by on Lake Harbour, saw what was happening and quickly made a U-turn. What Lori Miller, a 35-year-old mother of two, did was take over the situation, something that probably comes naturally to her. She is a self-described “military brat” who has lived all over the world. Her mother is a native of Panama. Her father is retired U.S. Army. She and her two children live on the Rankin County side of the Barnett Reservoir.
She is a former lifeguard, who studied in college to be an emergency medical technician and has managed a blood bank. Her professional goal is to manage a trauma center. Don’t bet against her.
Jerry Fite would tell anyone to hire her in a heartbeat.
Lori first tried every door of the still-running Navigator. All were locked. She pounded with all her might on the window. She yelled at him. Jerry didn’t move a muscle. She knew Jerry’s time was short, if he had any at all.
“I knew I needed something to break in a window and get in that car,” she says.
She was about to go get a tire iron out of her car when she saw a red pick-up driving slowly by with a tool box in back. She flagged the driver down. He had a hammer.
Lori went around to the passenger’s side and pounded on the window. It cracked but wouldn’t break. She asked the guy with the red pick-up to finish the job. He was hesitant, but then he did it. Jerry never moved. Once the unlock button was hit, she rushed around to the driver’s side and opened the door and started working on Jerry.
First, she felt for a pulse. It was faint. Jerry was going fast.
“The first thing you do with CPR is clear the airway so they can get as much oxygen as possible,” Lori says.
When she forced open Jerry’s mouth, she found his dentures loose.
“It was like he was choking on his dentures,” she says. “They were blocking his airway.”
Lori removed the dentures. She was going to pull him out of the car, but he was too heavy. She got in beside him and tried to straighten him up to make it easier for him to breathe. That’s when the Navigator shot forward.
“The truck was still in drive and apparently his foot had been on the brake,” Lori says. “It must have slipped onto the accelerator and there we went.”
She reached down with her left arm and slammed on the parking brake. She began to administer CPR as best she could. And, about that time, a policeman showed up on the passenger side.
“You are not going to believe this, but he wanted to know what happened to the window,” Lori says. “No, I’m serious, he wanted to know what happened to the window.”
Lori was too busy to explain. She went on about the business of trying to save Jerry’s life. Meantime, Jerry’s pulse was more faint. His lips had turned blue.
“He gasped once, and a few seconds later he gasped again like people do when they die,” Lori says. “I heard the ambulance coming. I knew they were close. I kept working on him. You know, medically, he was gone or mighty close to it, but there was just something about him that made me think he wasn’t going to die. I can’t explain it. I kept pumping his chest and telling him, ‘Don’t you die on me. They’re almost here. You’re going to make it.'”
The ambulance arrived. One of the EMTs said, “He’s a code,” which Lori took to mean that the EMTs thought that Jerry was gone.
“No, you don’t,” Lori barked. “We gotta keep trying. You gotta keep trying.”
The EMTs moved Jerry to the ambulance, kept working on him, rushed him to University Medical Center. There, they put him on a ventilator. They found the blockage. Dr. Bryan Barksdale cleared the artery, put in a stent.
Then came the wait.
“His heart was fine,” Barksdale says.” His other arteries were clean as can be. We just didn’t know about his brain. He went without oxygen for a long time. I was really worried about brain damage. You just never know.”
A day later, Jerry came to. He didn’t know where he was, where he had been or what had happened. But his mind was fine.
“It’s crazy,” Jerry says. “The last thing I remember was working out Monday morning.”
He doesn’t remember Lori Miller, the woman who saved his life, the woman who wouldn’t give up. She’s the woman who learned his identity through papers in his car, found him on Facebook and kept messaging his friends until she found his family and let them know what had happened.
“I just did what anybody in that situation should do,” Lori says.
But not everybody can.
“She saved Jerry’s life, no question about it,” Barksdale says. “He is one lucky dude. And she’s his angel.”
Barksdale says it just goes to show the importance of people learning CPR.
“There is just no overestimating how many lives would be saved if more people knew how to do CPR,” Barksdale says. “Lori Miller knew how. She knew the protocol. She did it perfectly under really adverse conditions.”
Barksdale has pushed and will continue to push for more CPR education in Mississippi schools. Lori Miller has her own ideas.
“I think when people get old enough to drive, to get behind the wheel of these huge machines, they are also old enough to learn and perform CPR,” she says. “If it was my decision, it would be required.”
Jerry Fite probably would agree.
When Jerry came back to his senses, Barksdale and others told him about what had happened, told him about Lori Miller.
On Wednesday, Jerry called Lori to thank her.
“I’m not going to lie, when I heard his voice, I cried,” she says.
On Friday, Jerry was released from UMMC. He plans to meet Lori, thank her in person.
“I feel great, I can’t wait to get back in the gym,” Jerry Fite says. “I’ve got a lot of living left to do.”