When Kip Judice's voice seemed raspier than normal over the weekend, he and his family didn't think much of it. The Duson police chief has long had a signature scratchiness, and it's allergy season in south Louisiana, after all.
But Judice, 56, suddenly felt as though the wind had been knocked out of him after bending over to put his shoes on Saturday afternoon, according to his daughter. He and his wife had been getting ready at their Scott home for the wedding of a family friend, and Judice croaked to his wife that he needed to go to the hospital immediately because he couldn't breathe.
"There was just no more breath in him," said the police chief's daughter, Emily Judice. "He told my mom he needed the hospital, and she said, 'Do you want me to call an ambulance?' He said, 'No way.' He knew there was no way it would get to them fast enough, so he had her load him up in the car and they headed to the ER."
She said her father thought he might be having an allergic reaction; it wouldn't have been the first time. He also thought he may be having a heart attack like the one he had suffered ten years earlier, she said.
Kip Judice arrived at the Our Lady of Lourdes Emergency Center in Scott around 5:30 p.m. Saturday. He was gasping for air, barely conscious, in his wife's vehicle when Lane Leblanc, a retired police officer who works security at the emergency department, recognized him. Leblanc carried the police chief into the standalone emergency department — a move that could have helped to save his life.
"He got him out of the car. Nothing else can happen if that doesn't happen," said Dr. Michael Odinet, the emergency room physician who was working at the time. "You have dead weight that you're dragging into an ER — literally dying — and he's a big man, and he made that happen. Everything was just right. Any one component of these first 25 minutes goes wrong, and the outcome is different."
Odinet, who has worked at the freestanding emergency department since it opened in December 2019, said he and his team immediately worked to resuscitate the police chief, open his airway and stabilize him.
"On initial look, he was actively dying in front of us. That means everything not only has to be perfect, but it has to be fast and perfect. He wasn't moving any air. That was the biggest thing we — all the medical professionals in the room — noticed," Odinet said.
"I was the doctor in charge, but without the nurses being very fast and perfect, he would not have made it. There was no question about that. They were as good as any group could have been. None of them blinked. None of them froze. They just seamlessly handled this crisis, this emergency."
Their quick work opened up Kip Judice's airway and allowed vital oxygen back into his body.
Odinet said there's no doubt in his mind that the police chief would have died if he had traveled farther to seek treatment at a Lafayette hospital.
Kip Judice was conscious during treatment at the Scott emergency department and his family says he remembers receiving epinephrine and steroids — the life-saving treatments often used for people suffering from severe allergic reactions.
"He told me (Monday) he remembers almost everything," Emily Judice said. "Once he was in the emergency room on the actual table, he remembers being jabbed with the EpiPen. He remembers hearing the doctor tell all of the other nurses and the staff what to do. He said it was pretty scary."
Once stabilized, Kip Judice was transferred to the main campus of Our Lady of Lourdes in Lafayette and admitted into the hospital's intensive care unit around 7:30 p.m. Saturday. He continued to receive epinephrine and steroid treatments overnight to keep his airway open and keep him stable, according to his daughter.
By midday Sunday, Kip Judice and his family would finally learn what had caused the sudden breathlessness: a tumor on his vocal cords.
"Anyone who has spoken with my dad knows his signature raspy voice," Emily Judice said. "He's always had that voice. They said he's probably always had that mass."
The police chief underwent surgery Monday afternoon to remove the mass, which was the size of a thumb joint. The procedure is similar to a tonsillectomy but with smaller tools, his daughter said.
A biopsy will determine if the tumor is malignant or benign. A hospital doctor told the family there is no reason to believe the mass is cancerous.
Kip Judice is recovering well from the surgery and was discharged from the hospital on Tuesday. He is expected to be able to return to work next week, according to his daughter.
The police chief will be unable to speak for three days as he recovers, which his family says might be the most challenging part of the whole ordeal.
"It might be a little traumatic for him," Emily Judice said with a laugh. "But he'll be OK."