Hearts and Heroes reunites survivors, bystanders and first responders

Published on February 16, 2024


From the courageous interventions of bystanders to the skilled care of first responders and medical personnel, the 2024 Cabarrus County EMS Hearts and Heroes event celebrated stories of survival made possible by swift, decisive actions. 

Hosted at the Laureate Center in Kannapolis City Hall, this year's event marked a record-breaking number of life-saving interventions. Survivors, bystanders who performed CPR, first responders and medical professionals reunited to commemorate 37 success stories from the past year.

Bystander CPR was credited in 19 of these cases.

“This is clearly a testament to the high level of skill in this room, the determination and will to help someone in need and the endless love, compassion and empathy we all embody,” EMS Medical Director Dr. Catherine Waggy told the crowd. “This room is full of family.”

Event keynote speakers Johnnie and Rachel Davis, whose own survival story inspired many, emphasized the importance of having support when dealing with “the trauma associated with almost losing the ones you love.” The couple are members of the Cardiac Arrest Survivor Alliance (CASA).  

Johnnie Davis credits his “wifesaver” for his survival. At their Mecklenburg County home on Christmas Eve in 2012, Rachel was his first line of defense, performing chest compressions for several minutes before firefighters arrived on scene.

On Christmas night he gained a second chance at life when he opened his eyes for the first time since going into cardiac arrest.

Praising first responders for their dedication, Johnnie Davis said, “Those are angels in those ambulances. You’re not just doing your job. You’re doing God’s work.”

The event continued, acknowledging all the heroes responsible for keeping the hearts beating.   

EMS Deputy Chief Justin Brines called up groups involved in the lifesaving process—everyone from bystanders to law enforcement, fire and EMS personnel and medical professionals. Each member of the group was presented with a challenge coin before taking a full group photo: one serious, the other silly.

As survivors and heroes were honored, many reconnected for the first time since the life-altering cardiac events.

Dwayne Vaughan recounted the day of his heart attack, which he experienced while he and his wife were leaving a local convenience store.

“I remember just blacking out,” he said. When he slumped over, his wife immediately yelled for help. Just two parking spaces away sat off-duty firefighter Dylan Griffin, who later said he had uncharacteristically lingered in the parking lot.

“If that doesn’t tell you that God is in control, I don’t know what does,” Vaughan told the crowd.

When Vaughan later reconnected with the firefighter, Griffin said he lived nearby and if Vaughan needed anything to let him know.

“I told him, ‘Dude, you’re gonna be hard-pressed to top that,’” Vaughan said.

The event paused briefly when a young attendee fainted, leading many in the crowd to rush to her aid. The girl was awake and alert when she was transported to Atrium Health Cabarrus and is doing fine, according to her family.      

Agencies recognized included Cabarrus County EMS, Cabarrus County Sheriff’s Office, Concord Fire Department, Kannapolis Fire Department, Kannapolis Police Department, Concord Police Department, Mount Pleasant Fire Department, Odell Fire Department, Midland Fire and Rescue, Coldwater Fire Department, Mount Mitchell Fire Department, Cabarrus County Fire Services Squad 410, Town of Harrisburg Fire Department and Atrium Health Cabarrus.

Brines reminded the crowd to spread the word about the agency’s participation in a Duke University research trial called RACE-CARS. The trial aims to improve survival from sudden cardiac arrest. Through a training video, viewers can learn four methods to save a life.

Watch the video here: https://youtu.be/rRttobzf_D4.

Cardiac Arrest Support Group; Community CPR

During the event, EMS officials also introduced the Cardiac Arrest Support Group, providing a vital resource for survivors, bystanders and families impacted by such events. The inaugural meeting, scheduled for April 27, aims to foster mental well-being, forge connections and offer mutual support.

Cabarrus EMS will also host a free community CPR course on February 22, 2024, at EMS Headquarters, emphasizing the importance of community engagement in lifesaving initiatives. Attendees will receive American Heart Association (AHA) certification.

For those interested in joining the support group or participating in the CPR course, contact Deputy Chief Kara Clarke at KAClarke@cabarruscounty.us or visit Cabarrus County EMS on Facebook @CabarrusCountyEMS for registration details. 


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