SHIP BOTTOM — A work crew was on 14th street Monday hauling storm debris when a front-end loader operator raised the machine's shovel, snaring high-voltage transmission lines and sending a charge through the equipment.
Bradley Diem, 45, of New London, Wisc., was standing next to the front end loader, his right hand resting on it, when the surge raced through him. It knocked the boots off the father of four and threw him under the machinery, blowing a tire out of the equipment in the process.
Someone called 9-1-1, and a worker moved to check on Diem. Ship Bottom Police Sgt. James Butler was first to arrive, scanning the scene for the downed wires and finding one of Diem's co-workers kneeling beside him.
"Is the truck charged? Is the truck charged?" Butler yelled at the workers there, wanting to make sure the current wasn't still coursing through Diem's body.
It wasn't, and Butler grabbed Diem by his legs and pulled him from under the truck. He checked Diem, but could find no pulse; Diem wasn't breathing. The man's eyes were wide open and his legs severely burned.
Butler began CPR.
Long Beach Township Police Patrolman Neil Rojas was next to arrive. He helped Butler activate an Automatic External Defibrillator, or AED, that police carry in their patrol cars.
But the machine advised against a shock.
"If there's not a shockable rhythm in the heart the defib verbally tells you no shock advised and to continue CPR," Butler said Tuesday.
"At this point his jaw was clenched shut and we were trying to pry it open and get the oxygen going to him," Butler said.
Butler said he continued CPR for what seemed like forever, but in reality was about 10 minutes, until the first aid responders took over.
There was a pulse, they said.
A medevac helicopter arrived and took Diem to Atlanticare Regional Medical Center's City Campus in Atlantic City but, because of the severity of his injuries, he was then taken to Temple University Hospital Burn Unit in Philadelphia, where he remains in critical condition.
"It feels great. We gave him a second chance; it was definitely a team effort without a doubt. I got there quick and the CPR worked and we brought him back," Butler said.
For members of Ship Bottom's eight-member police force, it was another dramatic rescue, this one less than a month after police here went door-to-door helping residents evacuate after Hurricane Sandy.
"He saved this guy's life, there's no doubt about it," Police Chief Paul Sharkey said. "It's been an incredible month and it's amazing. These guys are still out there working and I know the public appreciates that."
Diem’s condition remains precarious, according to family, and he faces a long recovery from his injuries.
"They say the first 48 (hours) are the most critical, but it's going to be a long haul for his legs," said Diem's sister, Diane Shipley.
Once at Temple University Hospital, doctors cut open Bradley Diem’s legs from the knees down to let the muscles breathe, Shipley said. Diem will need skin graphs on his legs, his arms and head also suffered burns, Shipley said. His heart is stable, she said.
Temple hospital officials declined to allow Diem's physician to be interviewed but did provide a medical expert on electrical injuries.
Temple University Dr. Daniel Edmundowicz said saving someone from the type of electrical shocking that Diem experienced is possible, but that timing is key.
When an individual experiences an excessive amount of electrical volts going through their body, the heart’s electrical activity is disrupted and that affects their pulse, which is the squeezing function of the heart pushing blood through the vessels, Edmundowicz said.
This kind of electrical shock can induce an abnormal heart rhythm usually called ventricular fibrillation, and if you were to physically look at the heart it would be shaking like a bowl of jelly but not beating, he said.
"So when the police pull up on scene, because the heart is just shaking and fibrillating, there is not going to be a pulse. They start compressing on the chest and supplying oxygen and that might have been enough to reset the rhythm and regain normal electrical activity. Fortunately, it sounds like he was not without oxygen for a long period of time and that he was able to come back," he said.
"Thank God the officer was there and trained in CPR. The longer a person goes without effective pumping of blood, the more tissue damage and organ failure occurs," he said.
When family members saw Diem on Tuesday, he was alert and talking, although confused.
"He knows who we all are. At first he'll talk to you like he understands and then he will say something off the wall. The doctors are saying this is common. He could lose his short-term memory for a week to a month," Shipley said.
But his family is happy nonetheless.
As Shipley made the 18-hour trip Monday from Wisconsin with seven family members they were preparing for the reality that Diem was not going to be alive. They pushed through traffic including a tie-up from a semi-tractor trailer truck burning on the highway, all while making phone calls to get updates about Diem's condition.
"I called about 10 times through the night on our way and it was quiet there. He had to be sedated. The doctor told me it was a miracle he made it out of this. The shock entered in his right hand and went out both of his feet," Shipley said Tuesday afternoon by telephone from Temple University Hospital at her brother's side.
Diem is an employee of Clay Mohon Mowing, a subcontractor working with AshBritt, Inc., according to a spokeswoman for the the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is investigating the incident.
Luann Heller said she and other workers doing cleanup on Long Beach Island are opening a fund at Chase Bank to help Diem's family with transportation, housing and medical bills while he recovers.
"We just want to help and try to do something for him and his family while he continues to recover. This is just awful. They really need any help they can get," Heller said.
For more information, contact Heller at 715-889-4453.
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