Help was only a pew away: Dennis Vick shares near-death story, testimony Sunday

Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.


Dennis Vick remembers hearing the distant sound of fire truck sirens getting closer and closer and thinking someone at church must be sick. As it turns out, the patient was Vick himself, dazed and confused. Just minutes before, he was unresponsive with no heartbeat and no respirations.

Vick, 66, had been stretched out on a hallway floor at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church that Sunday morning. His dress shirt was cut open, and three church members with emergency experience kneeled on the floor beside him. They had finally gotten a heartbeat after tag-teaming chest compressions and using the church’s automated external defibrillator until an ambulance arrived.


Dennis and Teresa Vick got to church as normal on Feb. 4 — Super Bowl Sunday. Teresa, a two-time cancer survivor, also has multiple sclerosis and gets around with a walker and some help from her husband.

Vick had his guitar at church that Sunday. He and the other musicians with New Hope Gospel Friends were playing the special music before the morning sermon.

New Hope Missionary Baptist, located on N.C. 58, is the church home for several in the Vick family, and in the congregation that morning were Dennis Vick’s brother and sister-in-law, Robert and Martha Vick, as well as Dennis’ twin sister, Diane, and her husband, Jerome Vick.

New Hope Gospel Friends played “How Great Thou Art” for the special music that day with Mary Beth Stephenson singing solo. She is the daughter of pastor, Steve Stephenson.

In the church video recording of that morning’s service, Vick strums his acoustic guitar and sings along with the chorus: “Then sings my soul, my savior God to thee. How great thou art; how great thou art.”

When the song ended, the musicians returned to their seats in the congregation. Martha Vick saw Dennis hand his brother-in-law, Jerome, a piece of candy before he sat down beside Teresa.

Dennis Vick remembers taking a sip of water and hearing the first few words of the pastor’s sermon.

He was starting his sermon with a story about baseball, and Vick was eager to hear what was coming next. But that was all he would hear.
“I just remember going back,” Vick said.

Everyone else remembers the sound. It was like a loud snoring sound, they say, and most everyone in the congregation heard it. Then they heard it a second time.

Vick doesn’t recall much after that. He remembers hearing someone crying and seeing the ceiling of the church. Later, he learned he was carried from the sanctuary into a hallway, where three emergency workers who attend New Hope could work on him.

Robert Vick watched part of the rescue effort. He learned later that his brother was shocked seven times with the defibrillator. He watched as his fellow church members hooked it up and followed the audio instructions. He remembers the church offering training in the defibrillator use when the equipment was purchased around 10 years ago.

In the sanctuary, Teresa Vick stayed calm.

“Because I knew he would be fine,” she said. “God was there.”


Allison Bissette, a paramedic and lieutenant with Wilson EMS, was sitting in the pew behind Dennis Vick that morning. Also in the congregation were two firefighters with emergency medical training, Michael Sumner with Wilson Fire and Rescue and Thomas Richards with the Raleigh Fire Department. All three jumped into action when they realized the seriousness of the situation.

“I went straight into work mode,” Bissette said. Although they had never worked together before and were missing the equipment they rely on in their jobs, the three were able to do an assessment and go through the process.

It was second nature, she said.

At first, Bissette wondered if Vick was having a diabetic episode, but it soon became obvious that was not the problem.

By the time he had been moved from the pew and into the hallway, he had no pulse. The three of them started CPR while someone ran to get the church AED. Mary Beth Stephenson used her cellphone and timed in two-minute increments while the three alternated with chest compressions.

Bissette talked to dispatch at 911 and told them Silver Lake Volunteer Fire Department just across the road was staffed that morning. She knew because her husband, Jason, was there for Sunday morning duty. The volunteers came quickly with a ventilation mask that delivered oxygen while the ambulance was in transit from Wilson.

Bissette said the CPR was so effective that Dennis was waking up and sort of grunting during compressions. But whenever the three stopped compressions to check for a pulse, they would lose him again.

Once they had the defibrillator in hand, they hooked it up and got the “shock advised” message. He was shocked five times before EMS arrived, said Bissette, who rode in the ambulance since she had started care.

By the time the ambulance arrived at Wilson Medical Center, Vick was awake enough to tell them his chest hurt.

“I’m even more now an advocate for AED and hands-only CPR,” Bissette said.

She calls the experience “divine intervention” in many respects, including her decision to go to church that morning even though she had considered staying home to keep her baby out of the rain. There were trained people on the spot immediately, she said, there was a defibrillator in the church, and the fire department was staffed that morning.

“Even in the chaos of it being in the middle of a church service, it went perfect,” she said. “And he’s proof of the outcome.”

Local medical personnel were in constant contact with the cardiology department at Rex Hospital in Raleigh. By the time Vick arrived in the emergency department at Wilson Medical Center, the process had been started to get an ambulance from Rex to Wilson. It was rainy that day, and transport by helicopter wasn’t an option.

Dr. Edwin Yaeger was in the emergency room in Wilson that morning and said the immediate intervention Vick received at the church that day made all the difference in the outcome.

“God was not ready for this gentleman yet,” Yaeger said.

By 4:30 p.m. Vick was having quadruple bypass surgery at Rex; in July, a stress test had indicated no problems. There was a 100 percent blockage in the “widowmaker” left anterior descending artery. Vick remembers the surgeon telling him before surgery, “You have had one miracle today; I hope we don’t need another.”

He also had six fractured ribs from the chest compressions. The doctors told Vick the fractures were in the right place and showed him the first responders had done everything just right with chest compressions.

Vicks still asks questions about what happened that day, and he continues to be grateful for the care he was given.

“Everything worked as it should for me or I wouldn’t be here,” he said. “God was in control.”


After weeks of recovery, Vick is back to his routine at home. He plays guitar with New Hope Gospel Friends at area nursing homes and works his contract job with the N.C. Department of Agriculture. He also makes a point to get in prescribed exercise, usually walking at the family farm where he tends a nice flock of guineas that have just started laying eggs.

During the Sunday 11 a.m. worship service this weekend, Vick will tell his story and give his testimony at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church. He will tell those in attendance what he experienced that day when his heart stopped beating, including the two visions he saw. The first vision took the form of people with black robes walking around him. He thought he had died and gone to hell, he said. But then he saw a white fog and a vision in white robes with raised arms.

“I could tell it was Christ,” Vick said. “I said, ‘My Savior.’ I knew I had to get to where he was.”

He also remembers seeing his mama’s hand come up and her telling him, “Go back.”

Dennis said he told Christ that day that he would tell people all that he saw.

“I know I was talking to Christ,” he said. “I heard what he was telling me.”

The public is invited to Sunday’s service to hear the testimony.

“I’m telling you, it is real, and you don’t know when it is happening.”