FARGO — There are times when firefighters, police officers and paramedics leave a 911 scene and never know the outcome, going home wondering whether a person they rushed to the hospital made it through.

But on Monday, Jan. 20, a group of Fargo first responders got an answer — along with hugs, handshakes and a whole lot of gratefulness — from a man who by all accounts should not be here after going into cardiac arrest this past July.

When first responders arrived at the south Fargo home of 72-year-old photographer Vern Whitten, veteran paramedics and police officers were hopeful but realistic. Police officer Jesse Helm was first on the scene and his partner Keith Fugleberg came soon after. They shocked Whitten with a defibrillator, but it didn't work.

Fugleberg said the number of shocks they gave Whitten reached "double digits."

"This guy is not going to make it," Helm remembers thinking.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live

Then arrived three Fargo firefighters: Logan Johnson, Mike Brown and Brett Baune, and soon after, paramedics with F-M Ambulance.

"I didn't expect Vern to survive if I am going to be really honest," said paramedic Brandon Mallea. "We had a long road ahead of us and a lot of work to do."

Whitten would be shocked around a dozen times in an effort to bring him back after he went into cardiac arrest.

"It is almost unheard of," said Mallea, who has been a paramedic for 10 years.

Whitten had no pulse as he was loaded up ad brought to the emergency room. He arrested in the ER again, but then everything turned around and he survived. Since his brush with death, he has lost 30 pounds, which he says he's "managed to keep off."

On Monday, Whitten arrived at F-M Ambulance along with his wife to thank the army of local emergency workers who made it possible for him to come out of the hospital alive.

"(It was) such a great experience to realize we have people like this around that take care of us and are there in a hurry," he said.

The first responders said it was a great feeling to know that someone they had brought to the hospital had survived, as they often don't know the outcome of the call.

"It is good, pretty humbling, to know he would call us out here just to thank us," Fugleberg said.