Grateful Heart

Cardiac arrest wakes retired dispatcher to the realities of opioid abuse

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) - "He helped me with the groceries and sat down and died ten minutes later," remembers Ashley Willard.

Thankfully, that's not the end of the story for a retired Sedgwick County dispatcher who says he experienced cardiac arrest.

He says it was caused in part by his prescribed opioid medication.

It's a story where the opioid crisis and heart health intersect. 

Chronic back pain caused by a decades-old back injury started Dan Willard's journey with opioid use. 

Dan says because of certain meds, he didn't even realize he was misusing his medication.  

His family tried to tell him, but Dan acknowledges he wouldn't listen.  

So something else had to alert him to the problem.

"When you have that kind of chronic pain, you want to be out of pain. You'd do anything to be out of pain almost," explains Dan.

Dan Willard now admits to misusing his prescription opioids and said one medication in particular caused him to be unaware of his misuse.

"The weekend it occurred I ended up taking more pain medication than I was permitted to do so, not realizing what I was doing, and that's what led to the cardiac arrest," says Dan.

On the afternoon of Saturday, November 4, Dan's daughter came home from grocery shopping early.  

Dan helped her carry in the groceries, then sat in his chair and went into cardiac arrest.

"I died twice. And that is the term. I was dead. But the good Lord decided he had other plans so because of that and all the miracles that took place with all the people in the right place at the right time," says Dan.

Thankfully, Dan's daughter Ashley was home.

"I came back in the room and mom says, 'Can you check on him? He's being kind of strange even though he's asleep.'"

When she couldn't slap Dan awake, she knew they were in trouble.  

She got her dad on the floor and called 911.  

"The crews out here are constantly being called to calls and for them to be in quarters at post at 4:00 in the afternoon on a Saturday is pretty incredible," explains Dan.

A dispatcher helped Ashley give her dad CPR until emergency crews quickly arrived and took over.

"There's an emotional side to you and there's a robotic side to you," explains Ashley. "You become a robot and follow instructions."

Those first responders would get Dan's heartbeat back but lose it again.  

Thankfully, they got it back a second time, and Dan is here to tell the story with no extenuating side effects.

"The odds are against you but when the higher power is controlling the situation, your time is numbered by the good Lord. When it's time it's time and when it's not it's not," says Dan.

Dan realizes he's been given a gift.  

He's talked with his doctor and readjusted his pain medications and dosage and is grateful for the dire situation that ended up saving his life. 

He hopes his story can save other families from the stress he caused his.

"I don't know that he ever would have admitted that he had a problem, that there was an issue if he hadn't died," reflects Ashley.

"It's given me a whole new outlook on life, a second chance to do it right and to make it better for my family and my grandkids," says Dan.
 


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