Michael Lee Dale was a hero to his family when he died this month, a man who had a heart attack shortly after trying in vain to resuscitate his mother.
Lacey emergency medical technician Karen Hoffman, called to the scene, found both Michael and his mother, Emma Lou Dale, on the floor of their Olympia home.
“I’ve been in this field for 20 years and never seen anything like it,” Hoffman said.
The events of Aug. 29 have left the Dale family devastated but proud of Michael, a Tacoma native, Stadium High School graduate and one-time outdoorsman who’d spent more than a decade battling a heart condition and diabetes.
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That evening, he heard a noise in another room, investigated and found his 83-year-old mother unconscious. He called 911 and got Thurston County dispatcher Kelly Dietrich.
It took EMTs close to 10 minutes to reach the rural home, and during that time Dietrich had Michael put her voice on speakerphone. She counted a rhythm so he could perform CPR.
Hoffman, who listened to the 911 tape later, said it was emotional.
“When we’re doing CPR, our crews rotate every two minutes, but Michael was doing it for 10,” Hoffman said. “At one point, he mentions his own health issues, and said it was difficult. You could hear him getting winded.”
The EMTs arrived with a fire engine crew of three, plus a battalion chief. As they relieved Michael and began working over his mother, Michael left the room momentarily.
When he returned, he collapsed.
“My brother was 63 and he’d had congestive heart failure since his 40s,” said Marshall Dale, who lives in Woodinville. “For the last 20 years or so, he’d lived with my mother, and they kind of took care of each other.
“We always kind of wondered what would happen to one if something happened to the other.”
The EMT workers on scene immediately called for a second crew — and then split their attention between two victims.
“We’re not trained for that situation,” Hoffman said. “It just doesn’t happen. When it did, our crew adapted on the spot.”
After about 30 minutes, Emma was pronounced dead. EMT crews worked on Michael for an hour and 20 minutes, and were able to get his pulse stabilized.
“They took him to (Providence) St. Peter’s in Olympia, got him on a respirator,” brother Mark Dale said.
The three brothers — Michael, Marshall and Mark — all grew up in Tacoma’s Browns Point. Each attended and graduated from Stadium in the early ’70s.
“Michael was born 100 years too late,” Mark said. “He would have made a great mountain man. He loved to hike in the woods and might be gone a week or two at a time.
“Once, he went to Colorado and climbed the Continental Divide using a map and compass instead of trails.”
Though his health near the end was fragile, Marshall said Michael might have saved countless lives the night he collapsed.
“There was a documentary crew filming the CPR that the paramedics were using, called constant compression,” Marshall said. “They want to use a few minutes of it as a training video.”
Hoffman said the documentarian had been following her EMT crew for five weeks without success.
“Five years ago we were trained in high-density CPR, and the survival rate of heart attack victims rose to over 50 percent,” Hoffman said. “Nationally, it’s about 11 percent.
“We’re trying to teach the public to do three things in an emergency: Call 911, push hard and fast in the middle of the chest — with a goal of 100 beats a minute — and keep doing that until the EMT crew is there to relieve you.”
That evening in Olympia, high-density CPR saved Michael’s life.
“We were able to talk with him in the hospital, actually got him out of bed and into a chair at one point,” Mark said. “He was able to speak. He knew us.”
Twelve days after Emma Dale died, her oldest son followed her.
“I was holding him the day he died,” Marshall Dale said. “My mother loved people and flowers. Michael was a loner. He loved the outdoors.”
On Friday, the Dale family — sons, grandchildren, nephews and nieces — gathered at Browns Point for a memorial service for Emma and Michael.
Hoffman, the EMT, was there in spirit.
“That night touched all of us, and the family’s graciousness in allowing us to use that video will save lives,” she said. “What we did that night allowed the family to say goodbye to Michael, and that’s a gift all of us want.”