FREEHOLD, NJ -- As a longtime volunteer EMT and as chief of the all-volunteer Freehold EMS squad, Jeff Hoffman was the go-to guy whenever there was a medical emergency at the car dealership where he works. He’d even performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) there a couple of times, and the Heimlich maneuver.
On Feb. 19, however, Hoffman was the one who needed rescuing. Among the first to jump to his aid were fellow EMS volunteers from another squad.
“I was changing a battery in a customer’s key fob and I just collapsed,” said Hoffman, a parts advisor at Contemporary Motor Cars in Little Silver. “I don’t remember anything about it. I woke up in the hospital three days later, intubated.”
Hoffman, 63, had gone into cardiac arrest -- three times that night, in fact – but was saved with the help of 911 dispatcher-assisted CPR initiated immediately after a co-worker witnessed him crumple in his chair. Electric shocks followed soon after with an automated external defibrillator (AED) retrieved from a Little Silver police officer’s patrol car.
Tom Smith, chief of the all-volunteer Little Silver EMS and also a paramedic, said he arrived after the AED had been used to shock Hoffman’s heart twice, and while the medics used their heart monitor as a temporary pacemaker.
Because he works with Hoffman’s paramedic son Jeremy, 27, Smith said he recognized the patient immediately.
All told, approximately a dozen Little Silver EMS members responded to the call, including Mike Very, a paramedic and volunteer EMT, who drove directly to the dealership in his own vehicle and arrived just behind the police car, Smith said. Very used the AED to deliver the first two shocks.
“Early CPR, early defibrillation,” Smith said. “Jeff was in the right place at the right time, with people who knew what they were doing.”
Hoffman recalled he was working late that Monday night, which also helped save his life. His wife, Lisa, an Episcopal priest, was away for a few days at her church in Cape May. Two of his three adult children don’t live in the area, and Jeremy, a fellow Freehold EMS volunteer, was working his paramedic job. The only other family member home with Hoffman that evening would have been his dog, Eastwood.
“Any other night, I would be dead,” he said. “I would have died at home, alone.”
Hoffman said he’s also grateful he wasn’t stricken while driving home that night.
‘I could have caused an accident and hurt someone else,” he said.
Although he’d had no chest pain, Hoffman admits he’d ignored for months his intermittent, worsening shortness of breath.
“I’m not the kind of person who runs to the doctor for every little thing,” he explained. “I thought it was part of getting old.”
Discharged to cardiac rehabilitation after a nine-day hospital stay, Hoffman said initially he’d felt weak, but is improving daily. He’s easing back into his work and squad routines – with some restrictions -- and makes a point of keeping up on his EMT skills, even if that means simply watching training videos.
“We are responsible for people’s lives,” he said. “I take that very, very seriously.”
Hoffman noted he joined the Freehold squad – which answers more than 5,000 calls annually -- weeks after the 9/11 terror attacks because he felt compelled to do something useful. He earned his EMT certification in May 2002.
Family affair and new AEDs
Jeremy Hoffman apparently inherited his father’s community-service gene. An EMS instructor and a volunteer firefighter, as well as a paramedic, volunteer EMT and a former Freehold EMS chief, Jeremy wanted to say thanks in some way.
He helped his father’s boss at the car dealership select two AEDs to purchase for the business, then offered to teach free CPR classes there. So far, at least a dozen of his father’s coworkers have taken advantage of the free training.
“There are so many times that medical emergencies happen and people stand around and do nothing – not because they don’t want to, but because they are afraid or because they don’t know what to do,” Jeremy Hoffman said.
Jeff Hoffman is taking full advantage of his second chance.
Admittedly short tempered and with a challenging personality at times before his near-death experience, Hoffman said “that person no longer exists. I don’t stress about anything. I feel like I’m 17 again. I feel very, very blessed.”
Although happily married, Hoffman said he now knows he didn’t fully appreciate his wife before and has been trying to rectify that. Since he arrived home, he added, “Eastwood won’t leave my side.”
Because he works in close proximity to the Little Silver EMS building, Hoffman often stops in to say hello and again express his appreciation.
“Hey, I’m your CPR save,” he says when he arrives.
Hoffman said he was dumbfounded when he realized how many people had a hand in saving his life.
“I’m so grateful for all the help,” he said. “I’m very humbled by all of it. I’ve been thanking everyone personally who had anything to do with this. I’m hugging people all the time now.”
In June, Hoffman treated to dinner the two paramedics who revived him in the ambulance en route to the hospital, Tim Sullivan and Peter De Nicola.
Often asked to describe what he saw or felt during his crisis, Hoffman denied seeing a bright light or having an out-of-body experience.
“But I am a believer,” he said.