Man thanks first responders for saving his life

MORGANTOWN — Twenty-three minutes.

If you’re an old-school sort, that’s your favorite TV show, minus the time (give or take) for commercials.

Twenty-three minutes (counting parking) is how long it took the other day to burn through your lunch, so you could make that conference call from the home office.

John Kovalcheck can tell you all about 23 minutes.

That’s how long it took to save his life the other day.

It was Monday, April 3, late afternoon.

Kolvacheck, 52, of Granville, had the day off. He works as a truck driver for a local excavating company.

He had been out on a few errands and had just hit his living room when everything went dark.

Kovalcheck was in full cardiac arrest, in his favorite chair.

At a lean, 6-foot-7, he’s all legs and arms. His girlfriend and foster kids were trying to help him when the call to 911 was made.

It didn’t take long for the Granville VFD truck and Mon Health System ambulance to roll up, and the people who exited those vehicles with the flashing lights didn’t waste any time.

Twenty-three minutes:

CPR, with the thumping chest compressions — you can’t let up, because if you do, that means there’s no blood flowing to vital organs.

Twenty-three minutes:

The defibrillator paddles, with their heart-charging current and urgent calls of “Clear!” from the people in that Granville living room.

When it was done they had a tall patient with his feet dangling over the gurney and his heart (tenuously) pounding its previous beat.

Robert Skipper, Kevin Bond, Emily Renner and Adam Dudas may have thought they were just doing their jobs during that 23-minute stretch.

Same for Brian Renner (Emily’s brother), Jerry Friend and Michelle Shafer.

Kovalcheck, understandably thinks otherwise.

That’s why he wanted to publicly thank them.

Which is what he did, on a rainy Tuesday afternoon at Mon Health System’s EMS headquarters, on J.D. Anderson Drive.

The seven were already there when he arrived.

“There’s my angels,” he said, wrapping each one in a hug. “I love ‘em all.”

Kovalcheck’s near-fatal episode was a surprise, he said.

He had recently quit smoking. His only persistent health issue was an irregular heartbeat, he said, which was treated with medication.

David Custer, the former Morgantown firefighter who now serves as executive director of Mon Health EMS, said he wants people to take those sirens for granted — in that they’ll know that the responders rushing to the scene will always be there.

Kovalcheck was unresponsive when the paramedics arrived. Did they think he wasn’t going to make it?

“We don’t let ourselves think about things like that,” Dudas said.

“I’m still here because you were there,” Kovalcheck said.

“I’ll never be able to thank you enough.”

Then, he gave the slightest of winks, and said, “If I hit the lottery, I’m taking everyone to dinner.”

Let it be known that a tear was attached to that wink.

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