“Proper training and quick-thinking by the crew of the M/V Crimson White, a CMT line haul tug, saved the life of Joey Howell,” according to Randy Vick, Regional Director of Loss Control for Cooper Marine & Timberlands (CMT).
March 7, 2017 began as just a normal morning for CMT tug pilot Joey Howell. On that day, 47-year old Joey, a father, husband and ten-year employee of CMT, was at the helm of the M/V Crimson White as he navigated up the Black Warrior River, a route he had operated countless times before in his career.
It was just before lunch when Joey’s fight for his life began, as steersman Jordan Jahner first noticed the initial signs that Joey was having a life threatening medical emergency. “Joey started pressing on his chest and complained of pain," recalled Jordan. “I was seriously worried about him and I suggested he immediately go down to talk to Captain Ricky Wyatt.”.
As Joey made his way down to Captain Ricky’s room, the gravity of the situation hit Joey and he recognized that his life was in grave danger. Joey swung open Captain Ricky’s door and requested immediate assistance. Captain Ricky instantly identified signs of a heart attack, quickly retrieved three aspirin for Joey, and instructed him to lie down as they worked to get him to safety.
Captain Ricky then jumped into action and led his crew in an emergency response to save the life of their colleague and friend, an exercise that they had practiced many times before. Captain Ricky immediately took control of the vessel and instructed steersman Jordan to stay with Joey while he contacted CMT dispatch to report the incident.
As Jordan approached the room, he saw Joey leaning on a handrail clutching his chest. “Seeing Joey holding his chest, I ran as fast as I could upstairs to the wheelhouse to get the AED [automated external defibrillator],” said Jordan. “On the way back down I felt the boat come to a sudden halt as Captain Ricky threw the engines full astern, and I realized at that moment that something very real was happening and we were in the middle of nowhere on the Black Warrior River.”
Jordan then recalled what happened next, “Suddenly Joey dropped to his knees, grimaced real hard and collapsed to the deck. I ran to his side. He had no pulse and wasn’t breathing, so I quickly powered up the AED and the voice recording coached me on what to do next.”
Jordan swiftly attached the two AED sensor pads to Joey’s chest and armpit. Jordan will never forget what happened next. “The defibrillator scanned his heart rhythms and told me 'Shock Advised'. I pressed the lightning bolt button and stepped back. Joey’s whole body jolted. The AED scanned for his pulse again and, detecting none, said ‘Commence CPR’. My heart sank. I started compressions, 1,2,3,4,5, still unresponsive. I was yelling and pushing on his chest and somewhere between the 6th and 10th set of compressions, Joey’s eyes sprung open and he took a deep breath.”
“It was the happiest, craziest moment in my entire life,” Jordan recalled as he explained what it was like seeing his friend come back to life in front of his eyes.
Meanwhile, in the wheelhouse, Captain Ricky had placed an emergency call to Loss Control Director Randy Vick and together they determined that the quickest and safest way to get Joey off the tug and to a hospital was to load him in the small crew change skiff and then speed him three miles back to the Foster’s Ferry Bridge. There they would have the ambulance meet them.
Within minutes of receiving orders from Captain Ricky, the crew had Joey loaded into the skiff and Jordan and deckhand Tyler Huggins sped downriver with Joey as fast as the 25hp outboard motor could go. “Minutes seemed like hours as Tyler and I watched Joey’s condition rapidly deteriorate," said Jordan. "Joey was in the fight of his life.”
The ambulance and paramedics had just arrived as they pulled under the bridge, and Jordan and Tyler swiftly worked with the paramedics to load Joey into the ambulance.
Moments later, Joey flat lined for a second time. The paramedics frantically worked to revive him. Using their defibrillator and CPR, they were able to successfully jump start his heart again, bringing him back to life for the second time that day. The ambulance crew was able to stabilize Joey and safely get him to the closest hospital.
Upon arrival at the emergency room, the doctors performed a balloon angioplasty and installed two stents. Following this successful life saving procedure, Joey rested and recovered with the comfort of his family and co-workers by his side.
As a result of the quick actions of his extraordinary crew, actions that were made instinctual from years of onboard training Joey was able to live to tell his story. Joey was, eventually, released from the hospital and is now looking forward to getting back to work with his CMT family. A family that proved on March 7, 2017 that they will always have each other’s back in their times of greatest need.
“I’m just eternally grateful to be alive today to live the rest of my life with my wife and kids. None of that would be possible without the heroic actions of my crew,” explained Joey. “If there’s one thing we can all learn from this, no matter what your job description or role is, make sure that you and your fellow team members are familiar with how to operate the AED and know basic CPR, and more than anything, always take your life saving training seriously, because you never know if it will be you that is depending on your coworkers knowing how to respond during your greatest time of need.”
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