Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge on Thursday addressed a national convention of EMS professionals in Austin, where he got to personally thank the local medics and Austin firefighters who saved his life in 2017.
"It's good to see everybody!" he chirped.
The last time they met, things were not good.
Ridge woke up the morning of Nov. 16, 2017, not feeling well. The former Pennsylvania governor was in town then for the annual Republican Governors Association meeting but soon found himself thinking he might be having a heart attack. Ridge thought maybe his symptoms weren't serious, but they persisted. He searched the internet and found a checklist of heart attack symptoms.
"I said, 'You know, Ridge, you might be having a heart attack,' " Ridge said.
From his room on the 22nd floor of the JW Marriott in downtown Austin, he called the hotel operator to say he was in trouble. He doesn't remember much else, he told the National Association of EMS Physicians at their annual meeting, which was being held at the same hotel.
Ridge suffered a heart attack and went into cardiac arrest three times, medics said.
While Ridge was a history-making figure as the nation's first Homeland Security secretary after the Sept. 11 attacks, the first responders treated him like any other patient, they said. They worked on him for more than an hour, during which he flatlined three times: once in his room, then in an elevator and in an ambulance.
As they tried to revive Ridge, medics broke several of his ribs and cracked his sternum, he told the Washington Post weeks after the event.
Medics recalled Ridge being in good spirits each time he was brought back. Austin-Travis County paramedic Brendan Cluskey said that after one of the revivals, they asked Ridge if he was OK.
Ridge replied with a resounding, "Yeah!" and two thumbs up, Cluskey said.
"I don't remember a moment," Ridge said.
He said he remembers waking up days later in Dell Seton Medical Center, where he recovered for several weeks. On Thursday, he said he was grateful to be back in the center of what he called "the Austin incident."
"I'm exhibit A for what you do. I'm exhibit A for your training; I'm exhibit A for your protocol; I'm exhibit A for your professionalism," Ridge told the crowd of nearly 1,000 EMS professionals gathered in a ballroom at the JW Marriott.
The now 73-year-old said he was thankful for EMS personnel, especially because they are often the first ones who arrive during a dangerous event, such as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Virginia Tech shooting or a natural disaster.
Medics are "rushing to fire, rushing to danger," he said. He marveled at the medics who treat their patients, often complete strangers, like loved ones.
"My crew never gave up on me, never gave up on me," he said