LACONIA -- Only 2 percent of people whose hearts stop live to tell about it, and one of them is 48-year-old Denise Cogswell.
The Wolfeboro resident traveled to the state's Bureau of Emergency Communication on Thursday to thank the Emergency 911 dispatcher who calmly led her husband and son through the steps of cardiopulmonary resuscitation that saved her life.
"It made the difference in my life," Cogswell said after meeting and hugging Steve Harris, the dispatcher whose simple instructions from a cubicle at his employer's Lakes Region office helped save her life.
In the early morning hours of Thanksgiving Day, Cogswell woke in the throes of ventricular fibrillation, thrashing and seizing. By the time her husband, T.J. Cogswell, called 911, she had stopped breathing. Her son, Derek Brockney, 18, awoke, heard the commotion and ran into the bedroom. "It was the scariest thing I have had to go through," Brockney said. When he took the phone, Harris told him to help T.J. get his mother on the floor. She had no pulse.
In a 911 audio tape, Harris led T.J. -- a business systems analyst for Liberty Mutual Insurance -- through eight minutes of steady chest compressions until Stewart's Ambulance arrived. "Come on Mom, you can do it. We love you," Brockney can be heard while her husband's voice, cracking under the emotional strain, counts out "35, 36, 37" in rapid succession. Cogswell had no history of heart trouble. She ended up at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, where doctors told her only 2 percent of patients survive sudden cardiac arrest.
Doctors have implanted a defibrillator in Cogswell's heart, which is monitored remotely. Doctors diagnosed her with a genetic condition, ventricular fibrilation, and Cogswell is now slowly returning to work and life. At Thursday's ceremony, Cogswell, her husband and her two sons thanked Harris as well as Stewart's Ambulance, Wolfeboro fire and Wolfeboro police. "Your steady voice was just amazing ... you kept him very calm and very focused," Cogswell told Harris.
Harris is an assistant supervisor-communications training officer with E-911; he is also a volunteer emergency medical technician in his town of New Hampton. Thursday's thanks was his first in three years as a dispatcher. "I was just doing my job," he said. Cogswell also extended thanks to everyone who played a part in the emergency and her recovery. She met many of them also for the first time.
"There are a lot of people that day that helped," she said. "A lot of them are volunteers. They don't get paid." Yet they left their families and their home early Thanksgiving morning, she said. "It was very much appreciated."