Eight years ago, Chris Conway stopped breathing inside his family home with his two brothers. They ran to get help and Chris was given mouth-to-mouth resuscitation until paramedics arrived by John Shinkwin, an off-duty Cambridge firefighter.
Now, with his health restored, Chris has made it his life’s work to help others. A paid call firefighter in Center Harbor, N.H., the soft-spoken 23-year-old last Friday took the national emergency medical technician exam with the hope that certification as a basic EMT will give him a career boost. He wants to make the transition from call firefighter to full-time first responder.
Conway was later diagnosed with a rare condition called commotio cordis, a disruption of the heart’s electrical system that causes cardiac arrest and, in many cases, sudden death. Chris’s heartbeat was stabilized and he was transferred to Children’s Hospital Boston. Doctors there placed a defibrillator in his chest to prevent another arrhythmia. But in the eight years that have passed since the operation, the defibrillator has not once had to emit electrical pulses to control Conway’s heartbeat.
He would like to one day have the defibrillator removed because the device threatens his dream of becoming a career firefighter. Under guidelines set by NFPA, professional firefighters can’t have any kind of mechanical implant.
In the meantime, as a volunteer, Chris last year was promoted to lieutenant for Center Harbor Fire Rescue, after he was named firefighter of the year for 2010.
In the words of Chris' Fire Chief John Schlemmer, “If we don’t have guys like Chris, we don’t have a fire service.’’