'Because of her, I did not have to give bad news to a child's parents'
By Kristy Bleizeffer Apr 5, 2017
Morgan, 15, thought she was dreaming. She was surrounded by unfamiliar faces. She was in a place she didn’t recognize. She tried to force herself back to sleep.
Last thing she remembered was doing her last pencil dive – feet first, keeping your body as straight as you’re able – into the YMCA swimming pool. It was the end of her P.E. class, and she had only to swim across the pool and climb out on the other side. She passed the black line on the bottom, and remembers nothing else.
She disappeared under the water.
No pulse. Not breathing
Stephanie Clark has pulled many people out of the water. Most of them are kids (some of them adults) who overestimate their ability to swim and jump in the deep end. Clark pulls them out, they cough up some water and all is fine, said Clark, a YMCA lifeguard and aquatics director.
She’d never had to resuscitate someone until that morning, March 15.
The Natrona County High School ninth graders were finishing their lesson. Clark stood at her lifeguard station with the P.E. teacher, Debbie Gibson, when they saw the commotion. Morgan, who had a history of seizures, had slipped under the water. A classmate pulled her head up, but she didn’t look right. Clark and Gibson jumped in and pulled her out of the water.
No pulse. Not breathing. Blue lips and skin.
“You know in the movies, when someone tries to move a body and it just flops over? She was flopping,” Clark said.
Clark started CPR with rescue breathing. She figures this lasted for two or so minutes before Morgan coughed up water and bile, then suffered a second seizure a short time later. Clark and Gibson held down her limbs as they waited for it to stop. Clark yelled at bystanders to call 911.
“They called me barky. I was barking orders, I guess,” she said.
Morgan’s pulse remained faint and her breathing weak. Clark administered more rescue breaths as needed until EMS arrived at 10:52 a.m.
Once Morgan was taken to Wyoming Medical Center, Clark’s adrenaline crashed. She was suddenly hungry. She wanted a nap. WMC’s responding paramedics, Tim Weaver and Dave Potter, returned to the YMCA to tell Clark that Morgan was going to be OK. Though she’d never administered CPR outside her practice and training, she didn't hesitate when it was time to use it on a real person.
“I’m just relieved Morgan is OK,” said Clark, who is using her few moments in the spotlight to remind people about water safety as summer approaches. Morgan’s case is a reminder that bad things can happen in the water, and people who go to swim in the lake or river, where lifeguards are not on duty, should take special care.
“And, learning CPR is imperative,” she said. “It should be something that everyone knows.”
Something to be proud of
Morgan woke to see people she did not know hunkered over her. Slowly, she recognized Gibson's face and she reached up to touch her own. She wasn’t dreaming after all.
She was loaded onto the ambulance and arrived at Wyoming Medical Center by 11:11 a.m.
Morgan has an extremely rare autoimmune disease called microscopic polyangiitis which severely damaged her kidneys. She had a kidney transplant a year ago. She had two seizures since her diagnosis and before the one she suffered in the YMCA pool, which was her third.
Ron Iverson, M.D., was on duty when Morgan came in. He started the effort to publicly recognize Clark for her quick action.
“This is somewhat personal for me because one of the most difficult things I have to do in my career is telling parents that their child has died. Stephanie saved me from having to do that,” Dr. Iverson said Wednesday during a short ceremony in Clark’s honor.
“The other reason is that I did lose a granddaughter to drowning 16 years ago. And I understand what the death of a child can do to a family," he said. "Stephanie was decisive. She did exactly the right thing. And because of her, I did not have to give bad news to Morgan’s parents.”
There are certain life-threatening situations – such as choking or drowning – that EMS can’t respond to quickly enough. Citizens need to be able to respond to those situations. And that’s what happened in this case, Dr. Iverson said.
“We had someone who was trained and passionate about saving lives, passionate about water safety, who was right there and who resuscitated Morgan. We need to be proud of this as a community.”
Ron Iverson, M.D.
Ron Iverson, M.D., has worked in the Wyoming Medical Center Emergency Department for 38 years. He is board certified in emergency medicine and is the 2016 Wyoming Medical Center Physician of the Year. Read more here.