Keith Rucker

Thursday, May 13, 2010 started off like any other day. At 8:30 a.m. firefighter Keith Rucker headed to work as usual. The next thing he remembers is waking up in the hospital a week and a half later.

On this particular day, Keith was going to teach a course on building construction for the Columbia Fire Department after his day at work at the South Carolina Fire Academy. He recalls leaving his house and making the normal commute from his home in Aiken to Columbia. He doesn't remember the events that followed; he has only heard stories from friends and family.

They tell him that as he was getting ready to leave work, he walked out to his car with his friend and co-worker Billy Roberts. He told Billy goodbye and said he would see him tomorrow. Before Billy got a chance to respond, he saw Keith fall to the ground. 

Billy and another co-worker rushed to his side and called 911. He didn't have a pulse. Fortunately, as a safety training facility, a portable defibrillator was available on the scene. After one jolt they were able to get his heart beating again.

He was admitted into Palmetto Health Heart Hospital in very poor condition. Angie, his wife of 26 years, arrived at the hospital expecting the worse but knew he was in good hands. "The doctors were honest and upfront with me about what was going on. They really took care of us and especially my husband," she says.

Keith had suffered from sudden cardiac arrest. He had been previously diagnosed with Peripheral Artery Disease, but like most people, Keith never believed something like this could happen to him.

A few days before the incident he had been feeling discomfort and pressure in his stomach. What he dismissed as indigestion turned out to be the early signs of his heart event. "I am a trained medical first responder, I should have known."

Keith was on life support for 10 days. Fearing brain damage, the Arctic Sun Temperature Management System was used for 72 hours, allowing his body temperature to be controlled in order to prevent further injury. After an extended stay in ICU they determined the only damage he suffered was to his heart.

He was implanted with an ICD (implantable cardioverter-defibrillator) and underwent coronary artery bypass surgery. Thanks to the fantastic nurses and doctors at Palmetto Health, everything went well and Keith was discharged June 7. His wife says, "He's a walking miracle. He shouldn't be here right now."

Keith has dedicated his life to saving people, but in this case, he was the one needing saving. If it weren't for the quick responses of his co-workers and the exceptional care he received at Palmetto Health Heart Hospital, Keith's story would have ended differently. "If it happened anywhere else besides where he was, we would have had to bury him," Angie says.

After this traumatic ordeal, Keith is finally back on his feet and taking time to relax. He expects to be able to go back to work by September. At 56 years old, this experience has given him a new appreciation for life. "I see every day as a gift. It's the little things that remind me to be grateful I'm alive."

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