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El Paso County praises quick-thinking life-savers

November 17, 2016 Updated: November 17, 2016 at 6:37 pm
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Imagine you're working out at the gym. The fitness class you're in is moving along at a high, energetic pace. Then suddenly, the person next to you can't continue. They collapse. And you realize something has to be done.

The person can't breathe. Their pulse has stopped. Are you ready to be a life-saver?

Robyn Weber, an epidemiologist for El Paso County Public Health, found herself in that exact situation on July 27 during an early morning workout at the county's Citizen's Service Center.

"It was definitely unexpected," she said on Thursday after she and five others received awards from the county for quick thinking and life-saving measures during two separate incidents, each of which involved the use of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Weber and the two other county employees who helped save the life of a woman at an employee gym, and three security guards from the county courthouse in downtown Colorado Springs who acted to save another woman in September were honored Thursday by the Board of County Commissioners with plaques, medals and a loud round of applause.

"Every one of these people did this without the least mental reservation," said Jim Reid, the county's executive director of public works, after helping hand out the awards.

Weber said it was only six minutes from the time she and gym manager Jenny Best realized the woman at the workout facility wasn't breathing to when Colorado Springs Fire Department paramedics showed up. And before the CSFD crews arrived, the patient had already been revived, thanks to hands-only CPR and an automatic external defibrillator (AED) brought to the scene by security guard Travis McCarthy after he quickly called 911.

"To me it felt like it was 20 minutes," Weber said. "Time slows down when you're in that kind of emergency."

The trio of security officers at the courthouse on Sept. 21 responded to a slightly different emergency.

Officer Ariel Nestegard was watching the security monitor and noticed a woman having a seizure in the Terry R. Harris Judicial Building's south tower. She immediately notified other officers and called 911.

Supervisor Roy Blackburn and Cpl. Ken Meyers didn't hesitate. They found the woman and helped make the seizures stop. But the woman had no pulse and wasn't breathing. Meyers began CPR and Blackburn monitored the situation until the woman began to breathe again. An ambulance arrived and the patient was rushed to a local hospital.

El Paso County Health Deputy Director Susan Whelan said the incidents, especially the one at the Citizens Service Center where 1,200 employees work, have raised awareness of possible emergencies and reinforced the need for CPR among staff.

"It has been a real motivator at the CSC to get trained (in CPR)," Whelan said. "All of our classes (for county employees) have filled up."

Weber said she had received CPR training "about 15 years ago" while in high school, had a refresher course in 2014 and took another this year before the incident at the gym. She said taking the updated training and the short duration between her last two classes helped in saving the woman's life. Weber said she and Best were able to react on instinct.

According to the American Heart Association, the approach to CPR training has changed in the past 10 years. While there used to be a focus on mouth-to-mouth breathing as well as pumping the chest to get a patient's heart going, since 2008 AHA recommends hands-only CPR.

"Heart pumping is more important," Weber said.

The Heart Association's website says that even people who simply view a CPR instructional video are "more likely to attempt life-saving resuscitation." The 2016 Hands-Only CPR Fact Sheet published by the AHA says more than 350,000 cardiac arrests happen annually in the U.S., and 90 percent of those who suffer out-of-hospital arrests die,

Steve Wilko, a spokesman for the Colorado Springs Fire Department, said many companies offer CPR training in many different formats in the Pikes Peak region. He recommends people who want to find the right class for them should do an Internet search for "CPR training in Colorado Springs."

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