A Greeley man who last month experienced cardiac arrest at his home is alive today thanks to his wife, who started CPR as she waited for first responders to arrive.
Robert and Sylvia Ybarra were eating dinner with their 19-year-old daughter, Serena, at their home in the Holiday Village subdivision. The Broncos-Steelers game was on the TV.
When he finished his dinner, Robert went out to his man cave in the garage as he often does to smoke a cigarette and watch the end of the game. He recently joked after 20 years of marriage the one thing he and Sylvia know about each other is they don't enjoy the same programming, and they've learned to give each other space to watch their TV shows in peace.
But moments after Robert walked outside, Sylvia heard a loud bang. She ran out to the front porch to find Robert on the ground. A lit cigarette remained clutched in his fingers, but his eyes were glazed over and he was gasping for air.
Sylvia called 911 and started CPR. She became certified after having Serena, who has cerebral palsy and is totally dependent on her mother for her care.
Sylvia continued compressions until a Banner Health ambulance crew and an Evans Fire Department truck arrived. First responders ordered Sylvia back into the house while they revived Robert before taking him to North Colorado Medical Center where he received further treatment, including an implantable defibrillator.
Sylvia remembers few details about the night other than that it was chaotic. The family dog, J.J., a Chihuahua, was "going crazy," Sylvia said. She didn't realize both the ambulance and the fire truck responded with full lights and sirens blaring. She hadn't heard them coming.
She also could only picture the face of one of the responding EMTs, which is why this week, nearly a month since Robert's collapse, Sylvia asked to meet those who responded to her 911 call.
"I just wanted to meet the people who saved my husband's life," Sylvia said.
But Dezrae Keiter, training captain and paramedic with Banner Health, was quick to push the credit back onto Sylvia.
"You handled that like a champ," she told Sylvia a couple of weeks ago during their visit with the family. "Your being cool, calm and collected, and getting blood moving back up to Robert's brain is why he is sitting here talking to us today."
Bystander CPR is a common topic of conversation among first responders, Keiter told the Ybarras, because it's something they don't see happening on the street as often as they would like. It's not uncommon for a passer-by to refuse to perform CPR on someone who needs help even though Weld County dispatchers provide instructions to 911 callers.
"It provides the patient an opportunity to have a positive neurological outcome if someone performs CPR immediately rather than waiting for us to get there to do it for them," Keiter said. "Every time I've been on a cardiac arrest save call, someone was already performing CPR when we arrived. The chances of survival go way up."
Robert, whose never missed a day of work as a fork lift driver at Universal Forest Products in Windsor, continues to recover at home from his ordeal. But that's just fine with Sylvia. The self-proclaimed worry-wart of the family, Sylvia said Robert's brush with death has helped put life into perspective.
"I used to be the one who stressed about people coming over and everything being perfect for the holidays," Sylvia said. "This experience has taught me to slow down; that I don't need to rush, rush, rush.
"I told people I don't even want anything this year. No gift could be more important than this."