Walmart Greeter Doug Hill is being credited with saving the life of customer Stephen Collins in the early morning hours of April 5 when Collins stumbled into the store, clutched his chest, and fell to one knee, grabbing the metal post at the door.
“He was having a heart attack. He had all the symptoms,” said Hill, 58, who grabbed an electric cart, put Collins in it and called 911.
A Van Buren Township police officer arrived almost immediately, with the fire department at his heels. Huron Valley Ambulance had been staging nearby, waiting for a call in the parking lot next to Walmart and arrived at once.
Meanwhile, Hill was directed to give Collins four baby aspirins and a Walmart employee ran down the aisles of the store to retrieve a bottle.
Within minutes, Collins, 60, was on his way to St. Joseph Mercy Hospital where a team of doctors opened up his arteries with a stent.
“This is very fast,” said cardiologist Dr. Al Dodds, who worked on Collins. He said Collins had a blood pressure of 50 when EMS got there and he would have had a cardiac arrest within minutes had he not had prompt attention.
“I think the greeter truly saved Mr. Collins life, as the outcome would have been very different had he progressed to cardiac arrest.
“Mr. Collins had his artery opened 1:15 hours after onset of symptoms, which is very fast.
“It allows the heart to heal with minimal damage, compared to someone who comes in several hours after symptom onset,” Dr. Dodds said.
Dr. Dodds told store general manager Dan Alstead that Hill should be named Employee of the Year for his quick thinking that saved a man’s life.
Store officials indicated Hill has been nominated for the honor and there will be a celebration. Hill also will get a gift card.
Hill of Westland retired from the Ford Motor Company after 37 years of service. He ran the Fitness Center at the Michigan Truck Plant in Wayne and had been trained in advanced first aid.
Hill seems a bit bewildered at all the attention, since he did what was the right thing to do.
He said after 911 was called, all the emergency people were at the store at the same time, he figures about two minutes.
It all started when Collins woke up in his Westlake apartment and put on the kettle for some decaf instant coffee. He said he has been an early riser for the past 20 years, rising between 5 and 6 a.m. This time it was a little earlier.
He noticed that he had run out of creamer. He said he drank coffee black in the Navy and he refuses to drink it black now.
He likes the hazelnut-flavored Coffee Mate that he gets from the dairy case, so he walked over to Walmart, just across Belleville Road from his apartment.
Collins said it was about 5 a.m. when he walked in the door and got a sharp pain in his chest. He recalls grabbing his chest feeling pressure that was like an elephant standing on his chest.
He said the greeter told him, “You’re having a heart attack,” and things started happening. He said he felt clammy, nauseated, and short of breath.
He remembers the greeter was very cool and handled him with assurance.
Collins recalls an emergency person putting an intravenous line into his arm, giving him a shot, and a ride in the ambulance. He said during the ride, a bright white light intruded into his consciousness, while an EMT slapped him on the hand to keep him awake.
After the stent was put in at the hospital, he said he felt weak, but the next day he was up and around at the hospital like nothing had happened.
He was admitted early on a Tuesday and was discharged the following Thursday noon. He went to Walmart to fill his prescription and talked to employees there about his experience.
“I feel better than I did before the heart attack,” Collins reports, saying he now can sleep through the night.
He said he is grateful for the compassion shown to him by everyone involved in saving his life.
Greeter Hill said after he retired, he put on about 35 pounds from sitting around, fishing and not having much physical activity. About a year and a half ago, he became a greeter at Walmart, working the 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift. He is married with four children.
Collins is an unemployed aircraft engine mechanic, who worked on planes in the Navy. He was honorably discharged in 1973. He has three grown children, all in Virginia.
He moved to Michigan in 1999 to try to get a job as an aircraft mechanic, his profession his whole adult life, but besides contracting work, he has been unable to find the full-time job he seeks and is living off his savings, which are shrinking. He is thinking of leaving the state to find work elsewhere.
Meanwhile, he is re-examining his life and wondering why he was saved from death.
“I think God is saying, I’m not done with you yet,” he said. “It was a wakeup call.”