Pastor shares story after collapsing from cardiac arrest during sermon

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BOYD COUNTY, Ky. (WSAZ) -- If you walk into Fairview Baptist Church in Boyd County, you'll likely be greeted by Pastor Mike Rice. But there was almost a chance his warm smile and big hug would not be around after he went into cardiac arrest while giving a sermon on June 10.

"I was preaching and that's all I remember," said Rice.

Witnesses say Rice was finishing up when he slumped backwards. They originally thought his blood sugar had dropped.

"It's pretty startling," said Ish Stevens. "We couldn't get a pulse on him. He stopped breathing."

Stevens is a pediatrician and was at the evening service when Rice collapsed. He, and others, jumped into action to save their pastor, including getting the Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) that was in the next room to help revive Rice.

"Every minute that the heart rhythm is not perfusing blood to the arteries of the body, it decreases your survivability by seven to 10 percent," said Stevens. "The chances of surviving an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest are very, very low, unless you can defibrillate. That's why the guidelines are call 911 and get the defibrillator."

While doctors in the congregation worked on the pastor, others ran across the street to the Westwood Volunteer Fire Department for help. The firefighters rushed to administer advanced care until paramedics got to the church, but even with quick response, the outlook was grim.

"My daughter would hold my hand and she would tell my wife, 'Hey, dad is squeezing my hand,' and she goes, 'You're going to have to get used to it. The doctor said more than likely he'll be a vegetable when he recovers from this.'"

According to the American Heart Association, 356,000 people suffer cardiac arrest every year in the United States. Around 90 percent are fatal. With a list of concerns and the odds stacked against him, Rice is alive. Many say it is a miracle, including his doctors.

"He looked at papers and said, 'Son, you were dead,'" said Rice. "He said, 'You're a miracle. I don't use that word lightly, but you're a miracle. You were dead.'"

Sunday was Rice's first service back to church where he shared his testimony of survival. He credits God, the people who jumped to save him, and the AED in the building for saving his life.

"We've had some senior members who, usually it wasn't heart related, and they would go out," said Rice. "We've had to call an ambulance two or three times and they came and said we need one. I agreed with it and we finally got the ball rolling and had it installed and had people trained, but little did I know I would be the first person that it was used on."

Since then, the church bought a second device for their other building. Rice and Stevens encourage other churches and groups to consider getting one.

"They are absolutely essential for any public gathering," said Stevens. "Any place where people are going to be congregated."

Rice is happy to be back in the pulpit and looking out to his smiling congregation. It's something many thought would never happen again.

"I wake up every day that there's a purpose," said Rice. "This may be the last day, this could be one, but there's a purpose."

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