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ALGONA — “It is great to be alive.”

That’s the feeling of Thomas Fitzpatrick of Algona, the subject of a dramatic rescue on Wednesday, July 13, after he and his granddaughter went boating on the Upper Des Moines River.

After putting in at Plum Creek Dam the duo’s boat became hung up on a logjam and they were late meeting Fitzpatrick’s fiancée, Carol Behning, at Veterans Park.

Fitzpatrick then began suffering from a medical condition, and a drone was used to locate them and direct rescuers. The drone then filmed the rescue as Kossuth County Emergency Management Coordinator Dave Penton and Kossuth County Sheriff Deputy Jake Radmaker helped Fitzpatrick and his granddaughter across the river and began giving Fitzpatrick medical attention.

“It’s kind of a family tradition to take the boat down the river. My granddaughter was visiting for the week from Columbia, Missouri, and she really wanted to go,” said Fitzpatrick. “We have a 5-horsepower motor, but it was broken, so we were just going to float to Veterans Park.”

However, a very wet spring, with a few flash floods, had created several logjams in the river, and manhandling the boat over the logs was beginning to take its toll on Fitzpatrick.

“I wasn’t feeling well. I didn’t know I was having a heart attack, but I didn’t feel well, and it was heavy work,” added Fitzpatrick.

Additionally, in pulling the boat over one jam, Fitzpatrick’s cell phone became wet.

“I slipped in the water, and we were running out of daylight. I put my cell phone on the bench,” said Fitzpatrick. “But my fiancée called me and the phone worked.”

A former sheriff deputy himself, Fitzpatrick had Behning contact the Kossuth County Sheriff’s Office. He and his granddaughter then pulled the boat onto the west bank of the little inlet they were at, and waited.

The call for the rescue came in at approximately 8:22 p.m., nearly three hours after first putting in at Plum Creek Dam, and searchers knew they were somewhere south of the River Road Golf Course.

The Algona Fire Department took its rescue boat to Veterans Park to begin the search north, and sent its all-terrain vehicle to Plum Creek Dam to start south. The Kossuth County Sheriff’s Office started in the middle.

“They didn’t know where they were, so I drove along River Road and would trigger my siren,” said Radmaker. “At about 2300 River Road, they said they could hear me.”

Meanwhile, Deputy Josh Missman was called in to use the TGI Phantom 4 drone, which had been purchased by the Kossuth County Sheriff’s Office at the end of May through a grant. Missman just recently finished training on flying the drone.

“We knew we only had about 40 minutes to find them before it became dark,” said Missman, who set up just across the road from where the party had said they could hear the siren. “It took just three-and-a-half minutes to find them once I put the drone in the air.”

At that point, Radmaker teamed up with Penton, who is also a paramedic, and they headed into the Hurlburt Wildlife area with another all-terrain vehicle and Radmaker’s pickup, getting as close as they could on the path.

“We were sitting on the river, and I heard that funny noise,” said Fitzpatrick. “I looked up and saw that drone and waved.”

The drone hovered over Fitzpatrick and his granddaughter to give Radmaker and Penton a target as they worked through the tall grass and marshy areas near the river. Fitzpatrick and his granddaughter then moved to where they could hear Penton and Radmaker calling for them.

“We moved about 200 yards, and could see them across the river,” said Fitzpatrick. “By that time, though I knew I was in bad shape. I was hurting like a dog.”

Fitzpatrick only remembers laying down on the bank and Penton coming to help him.

Penton had called for Algona EMS, and a paramedic and EMT from the service were taken to Fitzpatrick by Deputy Mike Sankey. Because of the terrain, the utility vehicle had become stuck, and none of the four-wheel-drive vehicles could get closer than a quarter mile to where they had crossed the river. It was now nearly an hour after the initial 911 call, and completely dark.

“Fitzpatrick’s condition was deteriorating, and we had Mercy Air Med start enroute,” said Penton. “We initially thought we would have to evacuate the patient from the scene, but the Algona Fire Department sent several firefighters to help carry the patient to where a truck could pick us up.”

“I’m so glad they recruit nice, strong young men,” said Fitzpatrick with a laugh. “They carried me through those weeds. It was a tough slog.”

By 10 p.m., Fitzpatrick was in an ambulance and on his way to Kossuth Regional Health Center, where Mercy Air Med was waiting. The ambulance pulled up to the helicopter and Fitzpatrick was transferred directly to the care of Mercy Air Med. Brian Bechtel, a nursing supervisor for Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa, verified Fitzpatrick had suffered a heart attack.

His granddaughter was transported to Kossuth Regional Health Center by Penton to be checked out as a precaution, and was treated and released.

“I was absolutely amazed at how calm and cool this young lady was. She handled a scary situation like a champ,” said Penton.

Thirty minutes after being placed in the helicopter, Fitzpatrick was in the cath lab at Mercy North Iowa, getting one stent, a small mesh tube, placed to open an artery to his heart.

“Modern medicine is so incredible, and with the technology we have available, EMS has eliminated delays in intervention,” said Penton. “With heart issues, time is muscle. Having the drone locate Mr. Fitzpatrick quickly, and then being able to have Algona EMS start interventions in the field, and have a helicopter waiting for them, really made a difference.”

“I really needed that stent, it really got the blood moving again,” said Fitzpatrick, who was upgraded to ‘good’ condition by Friday and was released by Monday, July 18. “I know I’ve been through a lot, I don’t want to run a marathon, but I feel good.”

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Mindy Baker is the editor of the Algona Upper Des Moines. This story was reprinted with permission.

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