Lifelong paramedic back to taking care of others after massive cardiac arrest

When you ask Kirk Casterline about his LifeFlight experience, his answer is short and sweet. “I was standing in the kitchen at home. I felt light-headed, my heart went into ventricular fibrillation and I fell to the floor. I woke up in Boston six days later.” Although he doesn’t remember the long list of professionals who helped save his life and who make up the system of emergency healthcare in Maine, Kirk is very familiar with all of them. He’s been a paramedic for most of his life, becoming an EMT more than 40 years ago in Pennsylvania. After a short stint serving as a Navy corpsman, he took a job as a paramedic at Redington-Fairview General Hospital in 1990 and has been there ever since.

When his wife, Cindy, called 9-1-1, it was Kirk’s colleagues who came to help, even some who weren’t on duty. In a matter of minutes, two ambulances, a fire truck and two police cruisers were on the scene. Cindy had already started CPR, thanks to instructions from the 9-1-1 operator, and when the ambulance crew arrived they used a defibrillator to try and restart Kirk’s heart. It took three shocks to bring his heart back to a regular rhythm. At RFGH the emergency department team worked to stabilize him enough for transport to Northern Light EMMC in Bangor. Easier said than done. Doctors and nurses had to perform additional CPR, deliver another shock with the defibrillator, and establish multiple IV and IO sites to administer critical medications.

Eventually, they were able to transport him to Bangor where cardiac specialists found massive occlusions in both of his coronary arteries. Stents were placed to open up his arteries, but his condition remained stubbornly unstable. He was going to need advanced treatment at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. LifeFlight was called to transport him.

Flight Nurse Veronica Marzonie explains, "Missions such as this are a marathon, not a sprint. All of our patients need to be moved as quickly as possible, but with a case that includes so many life-sustaining interventions, investing time preparing for transport is key to our ability to maintain quality of care. In Kirk’s case, we worked to seamlessly transfer him from EMMC’s equipment to our portable equipment including 8 IV infusions (the most I’ve ever seen in my time at LifeFlight), 3 invasive monitoring lines, the balloon pump, and a ventilator. Every transition of the patient, from hospital bed to stretcher and back to hospital bed, requires meticulous care. In all, my partner, flight medic John Malcolm, and I spent 3 hours outside an ICU caring for Kirk while we moved him more than 200 miles with help from 2 pilots and 2 ambulance crews."

Kirk spent 11 days in Boston before he was discharged home to continue outpatient cardiac rehab for another 12 weeks. He was back to work about 14 weeks after his ordeal began, and his colleagues couldn’t be happier. After nearly 30 years, Kirk is seen as a foundational member of the ambulance service and his absence was felt by everyone. Kirk is just glad to be able to do what he loves in the community he calls home.

CommSpec Brian Porter
Pilots Paul Dempsey / Brad Olsen
Medic John Malcolm
Nurse Veronica Marzonie