Health & Wellness

To the rescue: Firefighter running his first 10K saves another runner's life

The first mile of the Monument Avenue 10K in Richmond, Virginia, felt slow for Matt Howell. Soon, he picked up his speed, settling into a nine-minute mile pace. Howell felt good, but three miles into the race, he spotted something unusual. About 50 feet ahead of him, a man crumpled to the ground.

When he reached him, he saw a woman giving the fallen man chest compressions. Howell, a firefighter and EMT, felt his instincts kicking in and offered to help. Thanks to his skills, the runner, who had a heart attack, is now recuperating at home with his family.

Matt Howell
Matt Howell at work at Hannover Fire and EMS in Virginia. Thanks to his training as a firefighter and EMT, Howell helped a runner having a heart attack during a 10K race.

“All I could think about really was him and I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to have an impact on somebody’s life,” Howell told TODAY.

Related: Teen saves father's life with CPR

When he got to the man, whose identity has not been released, Howell immediately checked for a pulse. He couldn’t find one and saw the man wasn’t breathing. It seemed clear to Howell he had suffered a heart attack.

By this time, a group of people surrounded the runner and his daughter. Howell began organizing them, instructing one to make sure the airway was clear; asking others to help with compressions.

“He was instrumental in managing the people who were helping that man,” says Chief Jason Williams at Hanover Fire and EMS in Virginia where Howell works. “He works as a firefighter and a paramedic, taking care of the sick and injured. I have no doubt that gave him the confidence to deal with this.”

Related: What to do when someone is having a heart attack

A police officer arrived with an automated external defibrillator (AED) and Howell placed the pads on the fallen runner’s chest and scanned for a heart beat. Howell shocked the runner before starting chest compressions again. Then Howell noticed the man’s chest rising and falling on its own. He was breathing again and his pulse felt stronger.

“I looked up and saw Richmond ambulance authority,” he says. “I knew that this gentleman had the best chance I could have given him … I stood up and just started running again.”

Related: Heart disease is different in women and may be deadlier

Matt Howell
“You never know when you are going to have a good positive effect on someone’s life,” Howell says.

It turns out that saving a life helps with speed. In the last half of the run, which took place earlier this month, Howell averaged an eight-minute mile.

“It was the fastest I ever run in my life,” he says.

While his pace improved, Howell didn’t beat the goal he set for himself to finish his first 10K in under an hour, completing it in 1:02.25. If he hadn't stopped, Howell would have finished about 10 or 15 minutes earlier. But he can’t imagine a situation where he wouldn’t help.

“You never know when you are going to have a good positive effect on someone’s life,” he says.

Next year, he hopes to finish the race in under an hour.

Howell feels humbled by the experience and insists that he wasn’t alone in saving the man’s life.

Matt Howell
Howell started his career as a firefighter at Yellowstone National Park.

“There were probably around 10 people who did physical, hands-on CPR or airway management or made phone calls … a lot of people really willing to help,” he says. “What really saved his life [was] trained people who knew CPR and were willing to do it, and the use of an AED.”

Howell met the runner, who left the hospital this past weekend and told Howell he has big plans.

“The gentleman said he would like to finish from where he [fell]. If he chooses to walk the rest of the way, I would walk with him the rest of the way.”

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