Government officials and medical personnel gathered Monday in the rotunda of the Butte-Silver Bow County Courthouse to honor two first responders whose actions helped save a life when a man unexpectedly collapsed during a wedding.
The honorees were Marc McGree of Butte's A-1 Ambulance and Undersheriff George Skuletich, who each received a Copper Heart Hero Award.
Arch Arntson, A-1 first responder, recently spearheaded the creation of the award, which honors firefighters, police officers, ambulance personnel, court security officers and other officials who have saved a life. Butte-Silver Bow helped pay for Copper Heart lapel pins that symbolize the award, the first of which were handed out in September.
The event that put Skuletich and McGree's names up for the award occurred in October when the two were attending a wedding in Spokane.
During the wedding, Jim Paffhausen, the uncle of the groom and also a Butte native, had just been dancing and carrying around his small granddaughter when he set her down and suddenly collapsed. Later the Butte native discovered he had experienced sudden cardiac arrest, a condition in which the heart suddenly and inexplicably stops beating.
According to Paffhausen, who traveled from his summer home in Arizona to Butte to attend Monday's ceremony, only five percent of people survive a sudden cardiac arrest event, and of those, only 1 percent go on to live their lives without any adverse aftereffects.
Luckily for Paffhausen, he happened to be in a room full of first responders on that day in October.
After he collapsed, Skuletich and McGree immediately rushed to his aid and began administering chest compressions as Krissy Ueland Graham, a nurse who also grew up in Butte, gave mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. The three were assisted by a number of medical professionals who also happened to be friends and family members.
During the event, Skuletich helped coordinate with local paramedics, who had to shock Paffhausen around five times with a defibrillator to get his heart beating consistently again.
All-in-all, Paffhausen was without a pulse for around 20 minutes. Once his heart started beating again, paramedics took him to a local hospital, where later that night he would tell his son Mike Paffhausen that he was okay by squeezing his son's hand.
Mike Paffhausen recalls how swiftly the two jumped into action.
"He was toast on the ground," said Mike. "(But) Marc came flying across the room. And if I remember right... I remember him stripping his coat off, sliding across the floor on his knees and landing right at (my dad's) ankles."
Mike's wife Beth described those 20 tense minutes as "surreal," while Mike said having to wait on the sidelines while his dad struggled to live was heart wrenching.
"It was the most terrifying thing you could ever dream up happening," he said.
Today both are thankful for those who stepped in to save his dad's life, including medical personnel at MultiCare Deaconess Hospital in Spokane, where Paffhausen spent around 20 days in the intensive care unit.
Paffhausen added that there were a number of people assisting McGree and Skuletich, including Anaconda pharmacist Riley Vetter, Dr. Justin Schwartzenberger, nurse Meghan Traylor, and nurse Katelyn Stetzner, among others.
As for Skuletich and McGree, both said they were happy to accept the award and be acknowledged for their actions. Saving lives is part of the job description for both first responders, but saving a life means something a little extra when a friend or family member is involved.
"It's an honor to be able to do it," Skuletich said.
Paffhausen said he's happy to spend another day on planet earth and now looks upon life with renewed perspective.
"How do you say thank you to someone who saved your life?" said Paffhausen when asked what he wanted to express. "I get to keep living life."