Local man thanks Amesbury police officers who saved his life

Courtesy photoAmesbury police officers Liam Neary and Thomas Nichols were presented with the department's Life Saving Award this week for coming to the rescue of resident Art Warfel, who suffered a cardiac episode at home April 13. Pictured, from left, acting police Chief Craig Bailey, Neary, Rachel Warfel, Art Warfel, Nichols and Mayor Kassandra Gove.

AMESBURY — Earlier this month, 45-year-old Art Warfel suffered a severe cardiac episode — the kind only 15% of patients survive.

But thanks to two Amesbury police officers and soon after, local paramedics, Art was one of the lucky ones. Days later, he was discharged from the hospital and driven home. 

On Tuesday, Art and his wife, Rachel Warfel, got to thank officers Liam Leary and Thomas Nichols at a brief but emotional ceremony held at the Amesbury police station to recognize the officers' efforts. 

It was April 13 about 1:15 a.m. when Rachel thought her husband was snoring beside her. When she went to move him, he was stiff as a board. 

"The moment I touched him, I knew something was wrong," Rachel said Thursday.

Moments later, Art fell off the bed as he experienced a seizure. He then stopped moving and breathing. Rachel frantically tried CPR on Art — her only experience with the lifesaving technique from watching it on TV — but it was not working.

She then called 911 for help and within 90 seconds, Leary arrived and immediately began CPR. 

Less than a minute later, Nichols arrived and the two officers performed two-person CPR until Amesbury paramedics arrived. Shortly after their arrival, the entire team was able to establish a pulse and transported Warfel to Portsmouth Regional Hospital. 

"I don't remember anything. I just remember waking up in the hospital," Art said. 

He said he is well on the road of recovery and should be able to go back to work in a few weeks. 

"I'm very happy to be here," Art said. 

Rachel said doctors told her that Art was one of 15% of the public who survive a cardiac episode like that and attributed his survival to the immediate CPR he received by the team of Amesbury public safety professionals, She also said because her home has a quickly identifiable street number on it, it shaved precious time off their arrival.

"Every second counted in this case," Rachel said, adding that she would love for everyone, including herself, to take CPR classes. 

Nichols and Leary said their efforts could have been for naught if not for the Amesbury Fire Department paramedics who took over from them and continued treating Art until he was transported to the hospital.

"They're amazing," Nichols said, adding that as an Amesbury resident himself, he was comforted by the fact they were there to protect him and all residents. 

Upon seeing Art for the first time since they performed chest compressions two weeks ago, Leary and Nichols said they were impressed with how well he looked.

"You'd never know anything had happened," Leary said. 

Nichols said he was "fighting back the tears" at the ceremony, listening as the Warfels offered their sincere gratitude and thanks. He also said at the time he had "no idea" whether Art would survive the trip to the hospital, much less be up and about a short time later. 

"He was by no means out of the woods," Nichols said.

Both officers said although they have performed CPR before, they had never been thrust into a situation quite like the one they experienced April 13. That says a lot, especially for Nichols, who has been a police officer for 27 years. 

Asked whether they were nervous when they spotted him on the floor, Leary and Nichols said they did not have time to emotionally process the situation. Instead, their training immediately kicked in.

"You just jump into that mindset and perform the task at hand," Nichols said.

Leary agreed, saying that thanks to their rigorous training, performing CPR on someone becomes almost "natural."

As part of the ceremony, acting police Chief Craig Bailey presented the officers with the department's Life Saving Award. Among those in attendance were recently retired Amesbury police Chief William Scholtz and Mayor Kassandra Gove.

“We as a community could not be more proud of our public safety professionals, and it was an honor to sign these two awards,” Gove said during the ceremony. 

Art said despite his weakened condition, he wanted to be there when Leary and Nichols received their awards. 

"It was very important for me to be there simply to say, 'Thank you.' he said.

Rachel put it more bluntly.

"I would be a widow if it wasn't for them," she said, adding that she was "so very grateful" to the local paramedics who helped but were not at the ceremony. "They performed a miracle that night." 

Dave Rogers is a staff writer with The Daily News of Newburyport. Email him at: drogers@newburyportnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @drogers41008.

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