One day late last month, Roger Desmarais of Argilla Road walked into the central fire station and handed the chief an envelope.
“I hope this is enough to buy an ambulance,” he said.
It almost was.
Fire Chief Mike Mansfield opened the envelope and found a check for $125,000 made out to Andover Fire and Rescue.
The 911 call
On Sept. 27, a 911 call came in to the station from a resident of Argilla Road who was experiencing the symptoms of a heart attack.
Desmarais, a 67-year-old diabetic who had suffered a heart attack 20 years ago, said he thought at first he was having a diabetic reaction.
“They were the same symptoms,” said Desmarais, whose wife, Mary, was out of the house at the time, leaving him alone.
When firefighters arrived — four minutes after the 911 call came in — they found Desmarais “feeling sweaty (with) chest discomfort,” according to Mansfield, who recounted the call at last week’s Board of Selectmen’s meeting.
“The ambulance crew began an assessment when the patient went unconscious,” Mansfield said. He regained consciousness and asked about his wife, whom he hadn’t spoken with in some time.
The patient was placed on oxygen and the medical assessment continued until the Lawrence General Hospital medics arrived on scene and took over patient care.
At LGH, Mansfield said, “Desmarais went into full cardiac arrest where he was successfully revived and then transferred to Lahey Burlington, where he laid in a coma for five days.”
Last Monday night, Desmarais, who has since made a full recovery, stood at the podium during the selectmen’s meeting and thanked those who saved his life.
The town “should be proud of the Fire Department and the police for the job they do for our citizens. And Lawrence General Hospital is one helluva facility. They really did an excellent job,” said a grateful Desmarais, who was accompanied at the podium by Mansfield, the EMTs who responded to his 911 call and his wife.
He added, “The skill and the response time were unbelievable, between the Andover Fire Department, Lawrence General Hospital and Lahey — it was all done in less than three hours.”
It was that response and treatment that led Desmarais, who owns a medical device company, to make the sizable donation.
Mansfield praised the EMTs — Michael Oteri and Brian Flanagan — for their response, while thanking Desmarais and his wife for their contribution “so that we may be able to pursue the advancement of emergency medical response to the entire community in the future.”
Selectman Brian Major, who had a heart attack two years ago and went through a similar medical emergency, got a little choked up during the presentation.
“This hits home,” he said, adding, quietly, “Thank you.”
Later, he told Desmarais that they shared a “kinship, thanks to these folks. Your comments about Lawrence General Hospital were right on. We are so blessed to have a first-response team that’s incredible and such a phenomenal (hospital) facility right next door in the Merrimack Valley.”
In the hall outside the selectmen’s meeting room, Desmarais said the speed and skill of the medical response left him with no serious heart damage.
He noted that he now has three heart stents — one from a previous heart attack and two more from the more recent one. He said he walks 30 minutes a day and feels great.
“They say there’s nothing wrong with me now,” he said. “There’s no heart damage.”
The check, he said, was his way of giving back to the town.
“I wanted to do something for them that was important,” he said, adding that the money has no strings attached. “It’s up to the chief’s discretion on how to spend it. Hopefully it will be used to save other people.”
Mansfield presented Desmarais with a clock and plaque as a token of appreciation for his contribution and thanked him and his wife for their generosity. He said the money would be placed in a gift account and may be used to buy an auto-pulse machine, which can be hooked up to a patient to provide chest compressions.
“It will be used to provide even better pre-hospital medical care,” Mansfield said.