Former head of Homeland Security reunites with first responders who saved his life

It was all smiles and handshakes Thursday morning for Tom Ridge and these first responders. 

"I’m here to say thank you,” said Ridge.

The reunion took place at the downtown hotel where they first meet; nearly two years ago. "How do I feel about coming back to the same place, I dare not ask for the same room. I thought that might be a bit of an over reach,” said Ridge.

Tom Ridge is the former Secretary of the U.S. Homeland Security Department. He was staying on the 22nd floor at the J.W Marriott Hotel. It was November 16th, 2017.  

Ridge said he realized something was wrong and was able to call for help. "I was lucky I was at this hotel, I was lucky I was in Austin, I was lucky they were on me in 2 or 3 minutes, and I was lucky they never gave up."

Ridge would suffer 3 heart attacks.

One in the elevator as he was brought down to the ambulance.

"I can honestly say, I'd never heard of him before, said AFD Capt. David Heaton.

The focus, at the time, wasn't on who he was, but simply on how they could keep him alive. 

"The amount of fight he had in him was nothing I’ve ever seen before and every time he went down and these guys behind me worked hard to get him back, he'd come up in a battle in a fight, I don’t know if he knew what was going on, but he came up swinging a couple of times,” said Heaton.

CPR broke Ridge's sternum and several ribs; which now he jokes about. "This is the first group that ever beat the daylights out of me, and they beat me up pretty good because I was a trauma victim as well, but they saved my life as well and we were kidding them about it, these guys are good,” aid Ridge.

Earlier in the morning, during a gathering of national emergency responders, Ridge also met the entire medical team from the hospital that continued to treat him. "The system worked incredibly well that day and created incredible luck for Secretary Ridge,” said Mark Escott, Austin/Travis Co EMS Medical Director.

Before the incident Ridge was already an advocate for first responders. His encounter with death, and with the heroes who fought for his life, has strengthen his resolve to champion medical programs that will save more lives.  

"So when I walked in, I thought, wow, I certainly appreciate walking in, because I was wheeled out over a year ago, so it’s good to be back here and walking in because of the people behind me,” said Ridge.

Officials with Austin/Travis Co EMS and the Austin Fire Department say Ridge is an example of what’s called – “The chain of survival.” Its starts with the victim, and those immediately around them, who recognize the warning signs of a heart attack. Typically, that involves chest pain- shortness of breath and numbness in the arm. It’s important to also remember symptoms between men and women can be very different; which is why it’s important to take a CPR class.