“I’m a Survivor Too:” A paramedic’s story of being on the other side


Pictured left to right: Devin Goenner (son), Rita Berrier (Paramedic), Chris Goenner, Jodi Goenner (wife), Scott Hess (Paramedic), and Blair Richey (Paramedic)

It was October of 2007 when Christopher Goenner collapsed in front of his colleagues. Chris was only 32 and in seeming perfect health. But Chris’s heart had gone into ventricular tachycardia (VTAC)—an irregular rhythm that prevents the heart from pumping blood to the body.

With Chris unresponsive, his colleagues – fellow paramedics – took immediate action beginning with CPR. Chris’s fatal heart rhythm was quickly identified via cardiac monitor. A manual defibrillator was deployed to shock his heart back into a normal rhythm. Fortunately, only one shock was needed. Chris was quickly stabilized and transported to the hospital.

“When I woke, there were voices around me that hadn’t been there last I remembered. I couldn’t see for a bit as my vision was blurry. That’s how I knew something was wrong,” Chris shared with the CPR & First Aid Blog.

At the hospital, Chris received an internal defibrillator and a pacemaker. Incredibly, because CPR and a defibrillator were deployed within moments of his VTAC, there was no fear of brain damage. Chris was able to leave the hospital after only two nights.

“The important thing to remember in my story is – even though my colleagues are paramedics – the actions they took for me that day are all the same things that a bystander could do,” he said. “These are the same things that I would teach my students in an AHA Heartsaver class.”

Pictured: Chris Goenner

Today, Chris is serving as a program director at Central Piedmont Community College, in Charlotte, NC. He teaches the American Heart Association’s BLS, ACLS, Heartsaver, Friends & Family CPR and other AHA programs. Even better, his experience helps him connect with his students. He uses his personal story on the first day of each class to help drive home the importance of CPR and other lifesaving skills.

“The stuff I teach in my classes would have saved my life, no matter who had performed them,” he concluded. “The value of the public learning CPR is everything. I could have been anywhere… in my neighborhood or in the park. I could have collapsed any place, and bystander knowledge is the only thing that would make a difference.

This is why I teach with the American Heart Association. EMTs and Paramedics are able to provide advanced care, but we wouldn’t have the opportunity to perform that care without bystanders on the scene having the training and taking action with CPR to circulate the blood and oxygen in a victim’s body. My story may be unique because I’m both a lifesaver and a survivor, but I’m no different than anyone else who is still here because of the quick actions of those who just happened to be around when I needed them.”

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