By MARY RAINWATER
On April 10, while visiting the Palestine Public Library, Kenneth Hilton suddenly went into full cardiac arrest.
Staff members from the neighboring Veterans Affairs Clinic were quickly called in and began CPR on Hilton. Soon after Palestine Regional Medical Center EMS paramedics were dispatched to the scene, with paramedics Mark Neel and Chad Steely being the first to arrive.
A second ambulance arrived shortly thereafter with paramedics Keith Graves and Crystal Clayton, and a third ambulance manned by paramedics Angie Cramer and Nick Strazzulla joined them as well.
The team of six EMTs used a “pit crew” approach, surrounding Hilton, who had no pulse upon their arrival. Each member of the EMS team performed a specific task in order to meet Hilton’s medical needs.
The team was able to revive Hilton and quickly transported him to the PRMC Emergency Room where Hilton remained in critical condition.
It wasn’t until their patient had been transported, that the PRMC team realized the man was one of their own.
EMT Neel recalls looking for identification in the patient’s wallet, stumbling upon Hilton’s driver’s license, and calling out, “That’s Catfish in there!”
Team members concurred that when responding to a code, each is so focused on his/her own life-saving task, that the personal identity of the patient generally goes unnoticed.
Hilton (nicknamed “Catfish”) was one of the first paramedics in Anderson County, beginning his career around 1980.
During his stint with Palestine Regional Medical Center, Hilton was known to be a hard worker who loved his life as a paramedic. He dedicated many hours to saving lives in Anderson County as a first responder.
In 1997, Hilton trained a new paramedic by the name of Mark Neel.
“Kenneth was a great paramedic,” Neel said, “always working hard, always training someone.”
While Hilton was a paramedic at Palestine Regional, he often spoke about the high level of excellence of his EMTs.
“I want my EMTs to treat their patients like they would take care of their own mom,” Hilton said.
It was this kind of devotion to excellence in patient care that made Hilton such an inspiration and source of motivation to others.
Hilton, along with wife Kim and mother Annie Redfern, paid a visit to the PRMC Emergency Services Department on Aug. 2. Reunited with her husband’s life-savers, Kim Hilton recounted the dismal hours after the incident.
“I had already spoken to people about his organ donation,” she said.
Kenneth Hilton remained in a comatose state for roughly two days after his medical emergency. On April 12, to everyone’s surprise, he turned a corner. With a blink of the eyes and a furrow of the brow, Kim Hilton was assured that her husband was indeed “back.”
“I have no neurological damage and I thank God for that,” Kenneth Hilton said, grateful for his recovery. “And as for these paramedics…God saved my life but he used these guys as his instruments.”
Mary Rainwater may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org