Teamwork saves life of semi truck driver after suffers heart attack behind wheel in North Bend

It was a happy day at the North Bend Fire Station, Tuesday, June 11th when first responders and a good samaritan were reunited with Darrell Buckingham, whose life they saved the day after Christmas 2018.

First responders don’t often get the chance to meet the people whom they help, but Darrell – who still has a long road to recovery – said he wanted to meet the people who gave him a second chance at life. For first responders, it was chance to see the good they do in a job that as EF&R Chief Rich Burke says, often only captures a polaroid of people’s lives.

Darrell, who lives in Lacey, said he doesn’t remember the incident, or the days living up to it, but on December 26th he suffered a major heart attack while behind the wheel of his semi truck in North Bend.

He was heading east after picking up a full load of wine in Bellingham and had stopped at Truck Town. He suffered the heart attack on SE 468th while heading toward the on-ramp to eastbound I-90, slowly veered off the roadway and hit some trees.

Enter Jeff Dennis who was also at work driving his truck. He saw the semi go off the road and pulled over to check on the driver. He found Darrell unresponsive behind the wheel with his eyes open. Jeff pulled him from the truck cab, called 911 and started CPR.

KCSO Deputy Ryan Sprecher was close by, just on the other side of I-90 and responded first. He said while Dennis did compressions, he got the portable AED from his vehicle to try to restart Darell’s heart. A few minutes later, Eastside Fire & Rescue crews from Station 87 arrived and took over the scene.

First responders and Jeff were able to bring Darrell back just enough for the ambulance ride to the hospital, where his heart again stopped again, requiring another round of life saving interventions.

Darrell spent nearly two weeks in ICU and almost two full months in various hospitals before he was finally released on February 19th. His life partner Hanna Hooper said he still has a long road ahead and will never fully recover, saying he also suffered a small stroke that caused some issues on his right side. Hanna credits Darrell’s survival to his fitness and strong heart.

The former marathon runner now walks with a cane and is undergoing multiple types of therapy, but Darrell is very grateful to be alive and recognized how much worse it could have been had the heart attack happened after he got on the freeway.

A few weeks ago Darrell asked Hanna to help him get in touch with the first responders who saved him. She said she called the King County Sheriff’s Office for help. Dispatch gave Deputy Sprecher Darrell’s contact info, which he said was welcomed because he had tried to do some follow up, but was unsuccessful.

Deputy Sprecher said speaking to Darrell offered closure because often times first responders don’t get to follow up with victims. He said it’s also nice to know not all encounters people have with police are bad… that they helped save someone.

June 11th was a chance to bring things full circle, to see the result of the teamwork that saved Darell. It was also a chance Darrell said to show his appreciation for the second chance first responders gave him, people he said a lot of times get taken for granted.

Darell’s appreciation came complete with lunch, a giant cake, lots of smiles and of course, so many pictures.

Darrell meeting Jeff Dennis and Deputy Sprecher for the first time at EF&R in North Bend, 6/11/19
Darrell with EF&R North Bend Station 87 and KCSO first responders.

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