Racing against time is Chad Singletary’s job. His office is an ambulance; his clients are always in a hurry. But on a recent run, the 34-year-old paramedic had no idea he was driving not only his patient, but also himself, to the hospital.

Toward the end of Singletary’s shift on a recent Monday, a 911 call came in. Singletary and his partner Clifford Spears, an emergency medical technician basic, stabilized the patient and were en route when Singletary began to experience double vision. He dismissed his vision problem, and once his patient was being processed for admission, Singletary started back to the ambulance to continue his shift.

But a nurse at the hospital intervened.

“Are you OK?” she asked him.

His partner had just asked Singletary the same question.

“Chad had a blank stare on his face. When he looked at me, he seemed to look through me,” Spears said. When Singletary insisted he was fine, Spears’ first reaction was to slip into the same denial as his partner.

“After all, we are 911. We help others. I wasn’t quick to think my partner needed help,” he said.

But the nurse had already called the doctor. Soon the stroke team arrived, and a neurologist was examining Singletary, who was immediately admitted to the hospital.

The next day just before he thought he was being released, Singletary suffered a second stroke.

Singletary’s stroke wasn’t the usual. He was diagnosed with vertebral artery dissection, a cause of stroke in patients under the age of 45. A tear occurs in one of the inner layers of the vessel, which impedes the flow of blood to the brain. This is not the traditional stroke that would be age-related or due to coronary artery disease.

Although the symptoms of VAD are not as clearly defined as those of a conventional stroke, Singletary realized in hindsight that there were some classic signs he should have recognized as a warning. Not only did he experience double vision, but he also felt numbness in his right hand and the right side of his face and had had trouble speaking.

“I just thought it was something that would go away,” he said.

Singletary was treated with blood thinners and is back home. He will return to work at a desk until the artery heals.

Even though Singletary’s memory of that day is somewhat fuzzy, he does remember thinking that whatever was going on with him could be life-changing.

“I was hoping it would just be a bump in the road,” said Singletary. His wish came true. “I am taking medicine now, and I expect a full recovery with no lasting symptoms.” The healing of the tear in the vessel takes three to six months, but Singletary must adhere to limited activity during his recovery.

“No roller coasters or water parks for now,” said the father of three.

The paramedic has preached to others that attention to early symptoms is of the utmost importance if one suspects a stroke or a heart attack. Now he knows those warnings from both sides.

The EMS unit that arrives on the scene of an emergency call is a team of multi-taskers who, as Chuck Benedict of Acadian Ambulance describes, “are not so much about moving fast, but rather acting with a sense of urgency, making each action a purposeful one.”

EMTs arriving on the scene of a 911 call take note of the time of the complaint, determine what makes the symptoms better or worse, get the history of what the patient was doing when symptoms started, factor in the medical history, perform an EKG, administer medication such as nitroglycerin, and they complete the list required to stabilize the patient with the utmost efficiency and precise attention to detail.

It is because of this life-saving mission performed by first responders that the providers of Emergency Medical Services are the honorees at this year’s Heart Association gala.

“EMS professionals are an integral part to so many patient stories. They are on the frontlines of care and saving lives every day. The American Heart Association applauds our EMS heart heroes and are happy to honor them at this year’s Heart & Soul Gala,” says Dr. Gerry Cvitanovich, Heart & Soul Gala Chair.

Singletary, on the job now for 15 years now, started out in the EMS field at the age of 19 as an EMT basic and became a paramedic 11 years ago. Add to that that he has now been on the receiving end of those emergency services. Singletary now knows firsthand that attention to early warning signs and a call to 911 are actions to live by.