10-13 is a police radio code for “Officer needs assistance!” It is rarely used, and justifiably so: Whenever a 10-13 goes out over the airwaves, other police officers drop what they are doing and rush to help.
Nick Heine’s name was placed on the Colorado Law Enforcement Memorial Friday. Nick was a police officer for the city of Pueblo, Colorado, and was helping break up a bar fight last June 23. When a call came in about another bar brawl a few blocks away, Nick and several other officers took off on foot. And during that run, all the stars lined up wrong and Nick’s hidden heart defect – probably a disturbance in the heart’s conduction system – killed him.
“Dead before he hit the ground,” is a common saying, but Nick never fell. According to witnesses, one of his fellow officers caught him before he hit the pavement.
It’s stories like this that make you realize we’ll probably never completely defeat Congenital Heart Defects. A police officer for seven years, you have to assume that Officer Heine had a through physical exam before he joined the police department and probably repeat physicals throughout his career. Yet all through his life, the heart defect was unnoticed. Until that one instant when all the conditions were perfect and it showed itself.
And that is frustrating. Even if we could have perfect surgical techniques, nationwide coordination of care, and advanced genetic detection and correction options available tomorrow, some will still slip through. Because you can’t solve a problem when you don’t even know that there is a problem.
“It’s a different dynamic when someone causes the death of an officer,” Pueblo Police Chief Jim Billings said last June. “You have a focal point to direct your anger. In this case, there’s no one to be angry at. It’s one of those tragic things that happened.”
I’m willing to bet that Chief Billings was angry… because there was no answer. Everything was done correctly, someone with first aid training was right there when Nick went down, and still they lost him. Lost him to the one thing they probably never thought of and couldn’t defend against.
Officer Nick Heine will live forever, in the memory of those who knew him. A loving husband, father of two, dedicated police officer… and a Heart Defect Survivor, who never even knew he was one.