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Runner finds right place to die — and live again

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Larry Storrs has no memory of the moment when he dropped like a rock and lay motionless, his arms awkwardly beneath him during the Deseret News/Granite Furniture 10K run.

But it's a moment Suzy Putz and Tracy Lewis will never forget. They were stopped, in separate cars, in traffic. And they kept watching the clock as the runners passed by because they were going to be late for work.

The two women, both employees of University Hospital, were less than 100 yards away when Storrs fell. They didn't know it yet, but he had suffered a massive coronary.

Within minutes, the 63-year-old Rockville, Md., man — a Utah native home for American Fork High School's 45-year class reunion — would be dead.

And they would bring him back, with help from bystander Gary Howell.

Twice.

A week later on Monday, Putz, Storrs and Lewis laugh, hug and pose for photographs at the hospital. They've made a date to "walk" the 10K together next year. Storrs figures he'll be well enough by then. He's been given a second chance.

Storrs had long had a "strange heart rhythm." But doctors decided it was no problem, just "the way his heart beat," said E.J. Storrs, his wife. Storrs was in great health. A longtime runner, he'd been pestered by some shortness of breath when he ran ever since he had a hernia operation in February. But who doesn't run short of breath when they run? Even the day he collapsed, he had no pain.

When they got to him, blood was gushing from a gash over his eye, but they couldn't tell that at first. It looked like it was coming from his mouth.

"I knew he had a big problem," said Putz. "Your arms are not naturally beneath you. You kind of collect yourself, even when something's broken."

They turned him on his side so he could breathe, and he did OK for a minute. Then he turned blue. Howell called an ambulance, and the trio started CPR. A couple of minutes later he was back.

Then he was gone again. And they brought him back again.

At that point, all they could do was wait for the ambulance, then head for work. By then, they really were late.

Good news travels fast, Putz said. Throughout the day, as she worked in the surgical intensive care unit, where she's a nurse, people who had heard of her role in reviving Storrs updated her on his condition. The same thing was happening in the burn unit, where Lewis is the health unit coordinator.

When Putz saw him later that day, "he was so pink and delightful. We all shed a few tears. It was exciting for all of us."

Hospital employees are used to saving lives. But doing it on a quiet city street in the early morning was a new experience for both of the women.

Tests showed one of Storrs' primary arteries was 90 percent blocked. The next day, Dr. James Stringham did a double bypass. And Storrs was taken to the unit where Putz works. She was told that "other than a bruise where I did the compressions, his heart looked really good."

When Lewis went to visit, E.J. Storrs started crying. "Thank you for saving my husband's life."

"I never had anything like that happen before," Lewis said.

Storrs never did make that reunion, though he hears he was a topic of discussion there. A high school friend stopped by and told him what he'd missed.

He's not willing, though, to miss the visit he'd planned with his grandchildren, Selena, 21 months, and Austin, 5 months. Storrs and his wife will stay a couple of weeks before heading home to his job at the Library of Congress, where he does research for Congress on Latin America.

He's filled with wonder at his recovery. If it had happened in a small town in Mexico, like one of those he visited several times last year to observe the elections, he wouldn't have survived. If it had happened during his usual solitary run at 5:20 a.m., he wouldn't have made it.

But it didn't. It happened within walking distance of a hospital, with several people to help him, including a couple of people who never got credit because they didn't leave their names.


E-MAIL: lois@desnews.com