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'It took a village': Right people, right time help save a heart attack victim

Jim and LaRita Brown are pictured in their Red Wing house March 15, 2019. Jim Brown is home recovering after sustaining a heart attack while blowing snow in a February blizzard. Michael Brun / RiverTown Multimedia

RED WING — As Minnesota winters go, this year was a bad one. For Jim Brown of Red Wing, it could have been worse. It could have been his last.

Brown, 60, had a heart attack while blowing snow in a blizzard Sunday night, Feb. 24. Thanks to the quick actions of passersby and a neighbor who is a paramedic, Brown is alive today to tell the tale. At least what little of it he can recall.

"I guess I kind of remember going out, and then after that it's just nothing," he said last week in the comfort of his East Avenue home. "I just don't remember."

Brown's wife filled in the details.

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Her husband came in from the snow around 6 p.m. for a quick sip of coffee before heading back out to finish clearing the sidewalk, said LaRita Brown, who was watching a livestream of their grandaughter's dance routine at the time. But Jim never came back inside. Then she said she saw flashing lights through the window.

Good timing

A husband and wife driving by had spotted Jim on the ground and called 911, LaRita Brown explained. Moments later Nic Swanson with Red Wing Fire Department came running over to help.

Swanson said he had just returned home when the emergency dispatch came over the fire department's mobile alert program. The system shows the general location of the emergency on a map — and it was only a few houses away.

"I ran out my front door, in my slippers, and down the street where I found Jim and began CPR," Swanson said.

As chance would have it, Carissa Rowan, a nurse from Hastings, also happened to be driving down the hill on East Avenue. She stopped her vehicle and got out to provide assistance. Together she and Swanson performed two-person CPR until rescue vehicles arrived.

Rowan said her 20 years of nursing experience helped her stay calm in the moment and focus on saving Brown's life, but the gravity of what occured sunk in later that night.

"I am thankful that God put me there at that time that night with the skills to help this wonderful man," she said.

Paramedics were able to restart Brown's heart and get him to the emergency room. A helicopter later transported him to North Memorial Hospital in Robbinsdale, Minn. Doctors placed a stent in his heart and also put him into induced hypothermia for 24 hours, a procedure to reduce brain damage following cardiac arrest. He spent a week in the hospital before being sent home.

"Every day is getting a little better," Jim Brown said, adding the most painful part now is recovering from the fractured ribs he sustained from CPR.

Doctors told him he was lucky to survive that type of "widowmaker" heart attack.

"A doctor asked last week, 'Did you buy a lottery ticket?'" LaRita Brown said.

'It took a village'

The Browns said they are thankful for everyone who pitched in to make this a happy ending. They also wished to thank family, friends and Jim’s bosses Travis Goodman and Ben Olsen with Ben Olsen Realty in Zumbrota, for support during the recovery process.

"We are very blessed to have come through this," LaRita Brown said. "It took a village to get him through."

The couple celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary on Valentine's Day, just 10 days before the ordeal. They have five children, daughter Heather Fredrickson and sons Tony, Justin, Zachary and Adam, as well as 10 grandchildren.

The Browns said they are looking forward to taking a long-overdue vacation to the Black Hills in September — a Christmas present from their children — and welcoming a great-grandchild this summer. Both made possible by the life-saving efforts of all involved on that snowy Sunday night in February.

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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