Heart Attack Fails to Stop Peterbug

Noted Community Activist and Cobbler Thanks Rescuers After Spring Heart Attack

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John 'Peterbug' Matthews presented Cardiac Arrest Save Coins to the citizens and DC FEMS personnel who saved his life this spring. Photo: E.O'GOrek/CCN

John ‘Peterbug’ Matthews could not be stopped by a heart attack. “He or she that is up there in the sky wasn’t ready for me yet,” he said.

The 70-year-old Capitol Hill resident thanked the people who had saved him after he was found unresponsive on the stoop of his shoe repair shop, Peterbug Shoe Repair Academy, at 11:22 on the morning of on May 30. He had suffered a massive heart attack, said Fire Chief Gregory M. Dean.

On Wednesday, Peterbug welcomed his rescuers to the front of his shop to thank them for saving him and to give each person a ‘Cardiac Arrest Save Coin’. These coins are provided to those that respond and assist in returning the pulse to a pulseless patient prior to transferring care of that same patient to the hospital.

“Peterbug provides all of us with living proof of what happens when we all come together to help those in need. It is this same village approach that is leading to more and more lives saved across the city.”

Peterbug was found by his nephew, Steven Matthews who, together with Henry brown and Sylvester Nobles, put Peterbug on his back on the sidewalk and began chest compressions as one of them called Fire Emergency Medical Services (DC FEMS).

Engine 8 and Medic 19 arrived on the scene and found their pulseless patient in front of his shoe repair academy, Dean said. High-performance CPR was immediately initiated by the crew of Engine 8 and a shock delivered. When the medics arrived, they employed a Lucas mechanical chest compression device. When they reassessed Peterbug, they were greatly relieved, said Dean. “Lo and behold, his heart rhythm had converted to normal with pulses,” said Dean, “and he was breathing on his own.”

“A life had been saved,” Dean said.

Peterbug presented coins to Steven Matthews, Sylvester Nobles, Henry Brown, Lieutenant Benjamin Sternberg, Firefighter Technician Eric Jones, Firefighter/Paramedic Benjamin Dowden, Firefighter/Paramedic James Swartzentruber, Firefighter Emt Ebony Pinckney, and Firefighter EMT Robert Newnam.

Every life is precious, said Dean, but “Peter-Bug” holds a very special place in the hearts of his community. In December 2010, the 400 block of 13th Street SE was named Peterbug Matthews Way in in his honor.

Born and raised in the District, Peterbug attended Phelps Vocational High School, where he was encouraged to take up a trade before attending Federal City College. He opened Peterbug Shoe Repair and Academy in 1977 to train young men to fix and make shoes as well as basic entrepreneurial skills.

Councilmember Charles Allen (Ward 6-D) thanked the rescuers at the event. “It’s really a special opportunity here to say thank you to everyone who helped,” said Allen. “Peterbug is not just a friend of mine, but he’s a friend to all of Ward 6.”

Allen said that when the community first heard that Peterbug had suffered a heart attack, “[w]e feared the worst. But then the news started trickling in about the fast action of neighbors who stepped in to help save his life, and the fast action of the men and women of the fire department.”

“He takes care of us, and he takes care of neighbors all the time. He is an institution and a bedrock of Ward 6 and our community. So thank you all so much.”

Matthews said that he was glad that neighbors had taken the time to notice he was in trouble, saying that he was both honored and glad. He said that if his arms were long enough, he would embrace them all forever.

“I wanted to say again that if I had an extra arm on each arm, I would gather them all together and give them a hug that they would never ever forget,” said Peterbug, “because every time they’d look around, they’d all have Peterbug’s arm on them, keep on hugging them tight!”

Learn more about how you can be trained in Hands-on-Hearts CPR by visiting the DC FEMS website at fems.dc.gov/vi/page/hands-hearts-cpr-program. Once you have received training, you can download PulsePoint, an app that will tell you if there is an event in your immediate vicinity so that you can administer aid. Get it from the iTunes App Store and Google Play.