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Your Healthy Family: The close call this cowboy never imagined

Posted at 2:49 PM, Nov 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-18 16:49:37-05

CALHAN — In this Your Healthy Family, as part of Men's Health Awareness Month, we are talking about the importance of not ignoring warning signs that something is wrong and seeking treatment for those warning signs - like chest pain.

Some might argue there is no tougher breed of man than a cowboy, let alone one who loves bull riding like Bret Vaughn. “The adrenaline rush - it's just a feeling that is unmatchable. Trying to compete with a 1,000-pound animal that can outdo you in any way and every way - it's an adrenaline rush like no other.”

Bret’s wife Trisha knows her husband's toughness well. “Bret and I have known each other since we were seven. We met in third grade; he was my cousin's best friend, and so throughout the years we kept in touch and we have been together almost nine years now as a couple.”

But Trisha knew something was off on that July day with Bret, beyond dealing with the hazards of bull riding, on what was supposed to be his last ride. Bret says, “I rode professionally for about 10 years from 2005 to 2015 and then I took a step back, but still ride about once a year at the Calhan Fair. This year was supposed to be my last ride - and now I don't remember my last ride.”

For that matter, Bret has no memory of that day. Bret says, “About that day I remember nothing. I supposedly stopped and bought new boots on the way there. I also went to the vet with my dog and I don't remember any of it. Next thing I remember was waking up in the hospital.”

Bret's wife Trisha, his stepdaughter Jayden Collins, and many other people, though, remember that day very clearly. Jayden says, “When he got off the second bull we walked around to go see him, and when I saw him shaking I got a little nervous.”

Trisha was with Jayden at the time. “You could tell he was hurting a little bit. Our daughter noticed that his hand was shaking a lot worse than normal and she said, ‘I'm gonna go get a paramedic.’ ”

Jayden found Kelly Fowler, (Volunteer EMS) and her partner Chloe Cecil (EMT/FireFighter) with Calhan Fire, who were on standby at the fairgrounds for the bull riding. Kelly says, “His daughter actually came up to me and said, ‘Can you come help my dad out? He's feeling some chest pain and he had a heart attack a couple months ago.’ Right away I was thinking, ‘Oh gosh this could be really serious.’ ”

Kelly was walking with Bret and his family toward the ambulance to begin assessing his vitals when she says, “He was clutching his chest and walking to the ambulance and said, ‘I'm not going to make it; I think I'm going to pass out.’ ”

Jayden says, “When I saw him drop, I had to catch him. I kind of blacked out at that point. I couldn't focus, it was scary.”

Bret went into full-blown cardiac arrest. Captain Ginger Flynn, (Volunteer Paramedic) with Calhan Fire was one of many first responders on scene who quickly began assisting in treating Bret. Ginger says, “Usually when somebody goes into cardiac arrest, the survival rate isn't very good.”

What Bret did have going for him that day as his heart stopped was that the right people were in the right place to take action, and Bret didn’t ignore his symptoms after the bull rides.

Dr. Christopher Manhart, a cardiologist with UCHealth Memorial Hospital who eventually took over Bret’s care when he arrived in Colorado Springs by helicopter, says reacting to symptoms quickly is key in these types of situations. “For sure we encourage people to seek medical care when there is a concern. Yes, everybody can be stubborn at some point and they say, ‘Oh it could be this.’ But for sure it (getting something checked) could be something that can save your life. So we encourage regular follow-up with your general practitioner, annual physicals for good primary care prevention, but if you have new symptoms - for sure get them evaluated.”

Still on that July day at the fairgrounds, as EMS worked on Bret, the outcome was in question. Trisha recalls, “I just kept saying. 'I can't do this without him, I can't be without him, I can't lose him.' When he first went down and started gasping for air I just kept yelling at him, “breathe, breathe.’ When they were working on him I couldn't even stand up. I'm so grateful for Richie and Amanda Crumb and Anna, our family friends for being there with us because I wouldn’t have survived it without them.”

In our next story, we’ll learn more about the life-and-death struggle against the odds EMS and the staff at UCHealth fought to save this cowboy’s life.

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