Slumped sideways in the back seat of an old Toyota parked on the Dayton street was a well-dressed young man. He had stopped breathing and was beginning to turn blue.
It was a warm, soft July evening, about 11p.m. Across the street on a front porch were Kristen Gummerus and Becky Brown. The two students in Wright State University’s College of Nursing and Health were studying for a tough exam the next morning. They had just finished a section on CPR, or cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
The students noticed a girl sitting in the front seat of the car and looking into the backseat with a flashlight. She suddenly jumped out and said, “I don’t know if he’s dead.”
Gummerus called 911 on her cellphone, and the two students walked toward the car.
“His face and mouth were blue,” Gummerus said of the 20-something man. “He was not breathing at all. His eyes were rolled back into his head.”
Brown and Gummerus are study partners and best friends in the nursing program. They bonded during classes and clinicals and became inseparable. Both are scheduled to graduate with bachelor’s degrees in nursing in December.
Gummerus, 26, grew up in Dayton and graduated from Chaminade-Julienne High School. She currently works in a neurology unit at Kettering Hospital and is looking for a career in a fast-paced area such as emergency medicine or intensive care.
Brown, 31, entered the nursing program after earning her bachelor’s degree in biology. She currently works on an honors project at Miami Valley Hospital with mothers who are addicted to heroin; she wants to pursue that area as a career.
The students’ nursing education at Wright State included practicing life-and-death emergencies with patient simulators — high-tech mannequins, capable of mimicking a vast range of illnesses and injuries. The mannequins can even turn blue and shake to simulate choking or cardiac arrest.
“They put us in bad situations with the mannequins so we can have those ‘freak-out moments’ when it’s not a real person,” said Gummerus. “Wright State is real big about critical thinking and thinking through the situation.”
On that July night, the two students found themselves in a real life-or-death situation. No mannequins. No practicing. No do-overs. Everything they had learned was put to the test.
“We were shaking,” said Gummerus. “We were like, ‘Oh my gosh, this guy is going to die. We’re the only people around that know anything about what to do.’”
And suddenly, the whole world around them seemed to fall away, and it was just themselves and the moment. That’s when things started to click.
After the students and some onlookers pulled the man’s all-but-lifeless body out of the car and laid him in the street, Brown ran to her purse and retrieved a pulse oximeter, which is placed on a patient’s finger to measure oxygen levels in the blood.
Normal levels are 95 to 100 percent. The brain begins to die once oxygen levels drop below 80 percent. The levels of the man lying in the street were 50 percent and dropping. His pulse was irregular and not pumping blood efficiently.
“I think we were able to put the pieces together about what was going on inside of his body,” said Gummerus. “We knew what to do.”
Brown and Gummerus began CPR — one doing chest compressions and the other mouth-to-mouth rescue breathing. Then they switched. They worked on the man for more than five minutes.
“I think we had so much adrenaline that we could have done it forever,” said Gummerus. “We were really motivated to get him back.”
Suddenly, the man’s eyes rolled forward out of his head, and he exhibited a facial tone.
“You just saw he was there,” said Gummerus. “He was back.”
But then he began to slip away again.
The two nursing students immediately applied a sternal rub, grinding their knuckles on his breastbone so that the pain would rouse him. It did. The man began to breathe on his own.
“At that moment, the ambulance was coming around the corner,” said Brown. “The man looked at us and ended up standing up. So we basically had him awake before the EMTs got there. It was a really good feeling.”
The students won high praise from the onlookers, who had been standing by helplessly.
“They said, ‘My gosh, we wouldn’t have known what to do. Do you guys realize that you just saved this man’s life?’” Gummerus recalled. “People gave us high-fives and told us ‘great job.’”
Gummerus briefed the EMTs on what had happened and “handed off” the patient, who was taken to the hospital. To this day, the students don’t know who the man is, what caused him to stop breathing or what happened at the hospital.
They returned to the front porch that evening but had a little trouble focusing on their studies.
“It was a crazy night,” said Gummerus.
Story courtesy of Wright State University.