On a rural highway in early July, Kyle Vopat was headed to a secluded cabin about 40 miles from Grangeville, Idaho, taking time off from his demanding job as a lineworker for BPA’s Pasco Line Maintenance Crew in Washington. A few miles from his destination, he passed an awkwardly parked black Volkswagen on the side of the road.
While watching the car shrink in his rear-view mirror, he saw a man wearing all brown shorts, a T-shirt and baseball cap. He was on one knee, staring down at the ground with a phone clenched in his hand. His uniform reminded Vopat of a friend he had met two decades earlier, and that thought made him pause.
“At first I thought, that person will be alright…but, what if that was my friend and they needed help and I passed them by? Then, I realized it shouldn’t matter who the person was, I should stop and see if they need anything.”
After pulling his pickup beside the car, the man walked straight to Vopat’s truck, trying to open the door.
“He said nothing but ‘I’m having a heart attack, I’m having a heart attack, take me to the hospital,’ and he crawled into the vehicle.”
Vopat is trained in AED (automated external defibrillator), CPR and advanced first-aid. As a lineworker maintaining power lines along rural transmission rights of way, he and his crew members rely on each other during an emergency. Crews often find themselves far from paved roads, unable to receive emergency transport and many miles from clinics and hospitals. Because of that, crews practice injury scenarios and emergency response in a variety of environments.
“It was because of my training at Bonneville that I didn’t freak out,” said Vopat. “I stayed very calm, but that’s not typical for me,” he said, chuckling.
Once Vopat reached the closest hospital, the local medical personnel started prepping to airlift the man to Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Washington. Vopat removed the victim’s heavy work boots to make him more comfortable. Then, the injured man asked Vopat to stay in contact with his wife and direct her to the hospital a few hours from the man’s hometown of Culdesac, Idaho. Later, Vopat retrieved the Volkswagen marooned on the side of the road and returned it to the heart attack survivor’s home.
Looking back, Vopat had many reasons to be thankful for how the day turned out. Not only did his emergency training help him remain calm and respond to a person having a heart attack, but the stranger turned out to be Will Anderson, Vopat’s hunting buddy of 20 years.
While Vopat’s story models being a good Samaritan – and a good friend – Anderson’s own account of the situation was a chilling reminder of how a split-second decision can save a life.
After losing consciousness, waking up, calling paramedics and trying to waive down vehicles, Anderson was worried emergency responders wouldn’t make it to help him. He turned his back to the road and called his wife to say goodbye.
“I had given up. I had tried three times to stop somebody and no one stopped. I tried flailing my arms. No one stopped. I waved my hands and no one stopped. As I gave up, I kneeled down, thinking I was going to pass out again, and Kyle must have driven by.”
By the time Anderson turned back toward the highway, Vopat had turned around and pulled up to the man.
“I didn’t know who it was until he went to crawl into my pick up,” said Vopat. “You’re not mentally ready for something like that. You’re on vacation and you stop, hours from home, and someone says ‘I’m having a heart attack, I’m having a heart attack.’ Then of all people, it’s your friend.”
Will Anderson with his family. This was his second heart attack. He touts Vopat for keeping him and his wife calm during the entire event.