Joe Downing: EMS Professional's Expertise Helped Save Police Officer's Life

Updated:Nov 15,2016

Colleagues bond through a stroke; officer now calls EMT ‘My hero’

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In West Des Moines, Iowa, most paramedics and police officers know one another well enough to be on a first-name basis. So, for many years, Joe Downing and Scott Davis only knew each other by name and reputation.

They’ve become quite close over the past three years. And whenever they’re together, Scott always tells Joe, “You’re my hero.” Because Scott knows he might not be alive – and certainly wouldn’t be enjoying his quality of life – without Joe’s perfect response the day Scott had a stroke.

That fateful afternoon, Joe was driving back to the station after a call when he got word that an officer had a possible stroke at a school about 12 blocks from where he was.

Knowing that Scott led an anti-drug program in the schools, Joe thought it might be him. He also thought of how unlikely that was; Scott was 38 and in excellent shape.

But it was Scott, and he was showing the classic symptoms of a stroke.

“Scott, what’s your name?” Joe said.

“You know my name!” Scott angrily said. He didn’t give an answer, however, because he couldn’t. That’s what made Scott so angry. Then his speech became “totally garbled,” Joe said.

“It got worse, then better, then worse,” Joe said.

So Joe made his key move: calling the nearest certified stroke center, requesting to speak with a doctor instead of a dispatcher and letting the center know a stroke patient was on the way. A CT scanner was waiting when they arrived and a neurologist was on the way. Scott was soon whisked into an operating room, undergoing the rare procedure needed to battle his type of stroke.

It’s important to note that the series of events Joe put in motion had nothing to do with Scott being an officer. Joe would’ve done the same thing for any stroke patient because of how important immediate treatment is for any chance of recovery.

“Time lost is brain lost,” he said.

Joe’s textbook response almost wasn’t enough. Scott came so close to dying that a transplant harvesting team gathered outside the operating room, ready to deliver his organs to other patients.

Why did Scott beat the odds? Three major reasons: his age, his health and the speed in which Joe got him to the operating room.

In 1982, Joe’s dad was not as fortunate.

Don Downing was in his mid-60s and lived in a rural area that still doesn’t have advanced paramedics. He survived his stroke, but a man who had a sharp mind lost his ability to speak and he lost use of his right arm and right leg.

“Another stroke killed him six years later,” Joe said. “That influenced me to become involved in EMS.”

Joe became an EMT in 1990. Since Scott’s episode, Joe has been promoted to lieutenant.

And, of course, he and Scott have become pals – going boating, riding motorcycles and just hanging out. Scott also is engaged to one of Joe’s fellow EMTs.

Seeing any former patient enjoy such happiness is satisfying. It’s especially rewarding when it happens to a former patient who is also a colleague, and now a close friend.

“I like to say that I haven’t saved lives, the process has. EMS has. The awareness has. Doctors have, the progression of health care has,” Joe said. “But there have been a few times where I feel like I’ve made a difference. And Scott is among those, most definitely.”

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