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Students respond to on-campus emergency

Nursing, exercise science students help heart attack victim in library

By Alaina Akens
On January 25, 2012

At the end of each term, many students are tested with final exams, a time when they try to cram all the things they should have learned throughout a semester into a couple of days. The end of the semester rush for three students last fall resulted in their being tested in a real life, high-risk situation.

On Dec. 6, 2011, Mary Alexander, a former adjunct of ETSU, had a heart attack on the third floor of the Sherrod Library. Greg Alan, Aaron Fleenor and Brian Myers are the three students identified as helping save her life.

"I was getting ready to get on the elevator, and I asked if [Alexander] wanted to get on the elevator with me, but she said she was looking for a retirement party," said Mary Maupin, a custodian with the ETSU physical plant. "She kind of staggered, and I asked if she was alright, she said ‘No, I'm not,' and passed out."

Myers, a 22-year-old exercise science major, said, "I was in the library working on a project with one of my friends, and the next thing we know we hear a woman scream. I just react. I grab my [breathing] mask out of my backpack and run up the hallway to the elevators … I start checking her ABC's [airway, breathing and circulation], she wasn't breathing and she barely had a pulse, so I start doing rescue breaths."

Myers estimates he was on the scene about 15 seconds when Fleenor, a nursing student, arrived and began helping. Fleenor checked Alexander's radial pulse while Myers checked her carotid pulse.

"She didn't have a pulse at all, so we started a cycle of CPR," said Myers. After about two minutes, Public Safety officers arrived. Sgt. Rodney Williams and Public Safety Officer Amanda Worley responded to the call.

"They were really good, apparently they got right on her … it really helped," Worley said in a phone interview the day after the incident. They worked together, giving compressions and breaths.

While Myers and Fleenor were doing breaths, Alan, who is in the accelerated second degree bachelor of science in nursing program, went to get an automated external defibrillator.

"She took an agonal breathe, which is more of a reflex than breathing, but we made sure she wasn't taking regular breaths," Alan said. "Brian tried to tell everyone it won't shock unless it's indicated she needs it."

Dr. Jean Flanigan, professor and interim dean of Sherrod Library, said some people told her they weren't sure if these students who had come to the rescue knew what they were doing. "I told them, with all the [medical programs] on campus, if they act like they know what they're doing, assume that they do."

Myers said the students were getting ready to shock Alexander with the defibrillator again when EMS arrived. "They said to shock her again. She still wasn't breathing, they had to intubate her and put trek tubes in her throat and hooked her up to an IV."

Alexander survived the heart attack.

"I called and talked to her and it seemed she was doing well," said Maupin. "Last I heard, she was with her son until she could get on her feet. I'm glad she's alright today, and I've been praying for her."

Alan credits a quick response as a key factor in saving someone's life.

"In all the classes they say the sooner [you respond] the better the outcome is going to be," said Alan, who is a former EMT and also worked at a ski patrol in Montana.

Myers has worked as a lifeguard in middle Tennessee, and has been certified in first aid since he was about a junior in high school. He said he always carries his breathing mask with him.

"I'm thankful that I had the opportunity to get certified, and had the knowledge on how to act and respond," Myers said. "It's scary, but when they come out of it, it's fulfilling. It's like, wow, I helped better someone's life. Me and the others, we contributed to help this family have their sister, or their grandma or their mother back. She had a heart attack. Technically, she died that day. It feels awesome, really, but scary too. If I live the rest of my life and never have to do that again, I'll be good."

Flanigan is grateful that students responded to an emergency situation on campus. "Having the skills that Greg, Aaron and Brian have is important, but unless you're willing to step out of your pressing business [studying for clinical exams,] it doesn't help anyone," she said. "I don't know these guys, but I'm so terribly proud of them."

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