Right place, right time: Three WMC employees help revive man in Wal-Mart parking lot
By Kristy Bleizeffer Dec 26, 2018
There’s an old Chinese proverb that Caryn Schulenberg has been thinking about a lot: If you save someone’s life, you are responsible for them forever.
“I don’t believe that, but I do believe you are tied to them. There is part of you, because of what they gave you, that is tied to them forever,” she said.
If that’s the case, then a trip to the grocery store has forever linked Caryn, her husband Bob, and a group of strangers who just happened to be at the right place, at the right time.
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It was the afternoon of Oct. 14, a Sunday, in the eastside Wal-Mart parking lot. Caryn and Bob had just finished loading their groceries, and Bob left to return the shopping cart. Caryn climbed in the car and pulled out her phone because her husband is so social, he almost always finds someone to chat with.
She heard a man’s voice: “Sir? Sir?” Caryn turned to see a man, later identified as Sean Pesicka-Taggart, kneeling near the back of her car. She also noticed a pickup truck race around the corner and park behind her. “Uh oh,” Caryn thought. “She must be mad about something.”
Then, another man knocked on her window: “Do you know this guy?”
Caryn jumped from her car.
“The scene that met me there was horrifying,” Caryn later wrote in a blog post about the day. “There lay Bob, blood flowing from his head where he had hit the pavement. … His eyes were blank and his skin had started turning blue.”
Caryn thought she was going to lose him.
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The typical Sunday routine for Ginger Sims, R.N., and her family goes like this: Go to church, stop at Java Jitters to compile their weekly meal menu and shopping list, and then head to Albertson’s to get their groceries. On Oct. 14, Ginger’s list included a few items Albertson’s didn’t carry, so they went to Wal-Mart instead.
“It was a fluke that we even went to Wal-Mart that day,” said Ginger, a registered nurse on our Progressive Care Unit.
They’d gotten all but a couple of items on the list when Ginger decided she couldn’t deal with the busy store much longer. She paid for her groceries, loaded them up and was driving away when she saw a man running across the parking lot. She noticed a man lying on the ground and thought he’d been hit by a car.
Ginger moonlights at another health clinic and always has an extra stethoscope or two hanging from her rear-view mirror. She grabbed one and jumped from her pickup.
The man was lying on his side and not responding to Ginger’s questions. She rolled him onto his back and tried a sternum rub, a technique used by field EMTs to elicit a response from an unconscious patient. Nothing. Ginger ensured the man’s airway was open, but detected no pulse. She started chest compressions, while her son used OnStar in her vehicle to alert dispatch. Sean called 911.
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Heart disease is still one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Almost 80 percent of cardiac arrests happen outside of a hospital setting, most of those inside the home. Despite the fact, few people know CPR or what to do if someone collapses in front of them, and survival rate of a cardiac arrest outside a hospital was 12 percent in 2016, according to the American Heart Association.
Immediate CPR can double or triple the chance of survival.
Some people are also reluctant to give breaths to strangers during CPR. They don’t realize that compressions are the most important aspect, especially within the first several minutes. Healthy adults who suffer heart attacks have enough oxygen in their system to last about 6 to 10 minutes, but it must be circulated to the brain and through the body through chest compressions until medical help arrives.
Ginger Sims did three rounds of chest compressions, 30 downward thrusts per round. That’s when she began to tire.
“I am CPR certified if you need help,” said another bystander, later identified as Laura Lance, Sean’s girlfriend and a Wyoming Medical Center patient transporter and valet attendant. She is currently waiting to get into the radiology program at Casper College.
People also don’t realize how physically exhausting CPR can be. Laura took over chest compressions while Ginger coached and managed the scene. Ginger started to worry that the man’s oxygen would be depleted soon. She started to consider whether to risk her own health and give the man two mouth-to-mouth breaths.
That’s when she heard Caryn speak: “Bob?”
“Do you know this man?” Ginger asked.
“He’s my husband.”
“Come down,” Ginger said. “You’re going to breathe for him.”
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Valya Boycheva, a nurse on our Outpatient Services floor, was in the middle of her turn out of the Wal-Mart parking lot when she noticed the commotion. From the corner of her eye, she saw that someone appeared to be doing chest compressions on a body lying on the pavement. She turned onto Second Street and immediately circled back.
“Oh my gosh, that’s Ginger,” she said. She and Ginger went through school together and they also worked alongside each other for five years on our surgical floor.
“Do you need me to take over? Are you tired?”
People sometimes assume that nurses must perform CPR regularly in the hospital, but that’s not the case on most floors. Neither Vayla or Ginger are now on emergency or critical care floors, so they rarely have to resuscitate patients.
Nevertheless, all clinical staff at Wyoming Medical Center are required to test their CPR skills every three months. We use the American Heart Association’s Resuscitation Quality Improvement® Program, and we have five RQI Simulation Stations located throughout the hospital. The system measures and gives real-time feedback on rate and depth of compressions, incidence of long pauses and other indicators.
Though not a nurse, Laura also must undergo the CPR testing every quarter. She’d never before had to resuscitate an unconscious person before encountering the man in the Wal-Mart parking lot, and was nervous that her compressions weren’t fast or deep enough. Whenever she got tired, Ginger reminded her to push harder and deeper.
“I’m just thankful I’ve had proper training to be able to help out in such a scary situation,” she said, hopes the experience will inspire more people to learn CPR. “You don’t have to be a nurse or an EMS worker to save someone’s life.”
Valya agreed: “I remember being a new nurse, and I would think, ‘If anything were to happen, would I know what to do? Would I do exactly what that person needs me to do?’And then it happens and you do it.”
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Ginger heard the sirens within a few minutes.
“Just a few more rounds, guys. Just a few more rounds,” she told her CPR partners. “He was trying to breathe so I knew he had a shot, but it was getting to that critical moment, and I knew we could not let up.”
Bob was transported to Wyoming Medical Center and underwent a CT scan for his head injury. He was then rushed to the Cardiac Cath Lab, and his blocked vessel was open within two hours of his cardiac arrest. Doctors told Caryn it was the widowmaker – a very serious heart attack sometimes referred to a chronic total obstruction. They expected Bob to recover.
“It was shocking that it all happened so fast, and then they came out and said he was doing well,” Caryn said. “I would never go anywhere else but this hospital. This hospital has taken such good care of every person that I have cared about.”
Bob is now a patient in the Cardiac Rehab Program through the NERD Health and Wellness Center, working with medical staff in a guided exercise program to strengthen his heart. Caryn has worked to gather the names of all those who stopped to help her husband on that Sunday afternoon, and she has many “thank-yous” to deliver. She tried to include everyone in her blog post, and it is definitely worth the read. Read it here.
The police offer who responded to the call on Oct. 14 was the one to call Laura and tell her that Bob had pulled through. “It was one of the best phone calls I’ve ever received. Sean and I were so worried about it, and we hoped and prayed for the best.”
Recently, Bob and Caryn reunited with the WMC nurses who, along with other bystanders in the Wal-Mart parking lot, worked together to save his life.
Neither Valya or Ginger had ever encountered someone who needed CPR outside the hospital, and both remember wondering about how the man had faired for hours after he’d left in the ambulance.
“I don’t even know how to put it in words,” Ginger said. “It was the most rewarding day in my entire career when I found out that he was doing OK.”
Valya agreed: “I don’t know if you believe in God, but I just can’t help but think we were all at the right place, at the right time.”
“It is completely God,” Caryn added. “He just orchestrated the whole thing.”