Right place, right time: Teen lifeguard, park coworkers praised for saving man’s life

A Brown County State Park employee has some coworkers and a teen lifeguard to thank for helping to save his life last week.

The man was entering the dining room at the Abe Martin Lodge on March 1 to have lunch with some other park employees when he stumbled slightly, stood up rigidly and fell backwards to the floor, “like a tree falling,” said state park Manager Doug Baird.

Nashville Police Chief Deputy Tim True was the first officer or emergency medical technician to arrive on scene, but that wasn’t until about five minutes after emergency units were dispatched.

In the meantime, a dining room hostess called the lodge front desk to call 911 while another employee ran to get the lodge’s AED, or automated external defibrillator. The AED is a portable machine that delivers an electric shock to reset the heart’s rhythm.

The hostess and another unidentified park employee opened the man’s shirt and began doing chest compressions, Baird said. Another employee ran to the lodge’s indoor pool and found 19-year-old Eli White in the lifeguard chair.

“She just said, ‘We have a man upstairs who has not been conscious for about two minutes,’” White said.

White said he jogged out of the pool, then went into a “dead sprint” when he realized what was happening.

Upstairs, the man, who looked to be in his early 60s, was lying in the hallway outside the dining room, breathing, but not well, White said. He couldn’t find his pulse.

He directed one of the other park employees to put the AED pads on the man’s chest while White did chest compressions. He said he did two sets of 30 and then administered a shock through the machine, two or three more sets of compressions and another shock.

Then, he felt a pulse.

“It just, like, a huge relief, because it was tough sitting there for two minutes, just working on him and feeling nothing,” White said.

When True arrived, White was still holding the man’s hand. The man was struggling to speak and breathe, but he was conscious, True said.

An ambulance crew from Columbus Regional Hospital arrived soon after, as well as two conservation officers, Baird and park assistant manager Kevin Snyder, True said.

By that time, the man was able to answer questions, Baird said. Baird said he didn’t wish to be publicly identified, and neither did the coworkers who also stepped in to help.

The man was taken to a hospital by ambulance, and as of late last week he was resting and having tests run and thought he might be home by the weekend, Baird said.

Without park employees’ quick thinking, there’s a pretty good chance he wouldn’t have survived, said True, who’s also an EMT. That chance drops by 7 to 10 percent for every minute a normal heartbeat isn’t restored, according to the American Heart Association.

The American Heart Association recommends that AEDs be placed in public and private places where large numbers of people gather, or where people at high risk for heart attacks live. True said it is becoming more common to see them in public buildings.

Though the idea of administering a shock to someone’s heart sounds scary, True said the machine talks you through it and it won’t let you deliver a shock except when the heart is registering at an abnormal rhythm. It also tells the user when to start and stop chest compressions if needed, he said.

True said he’s never had to use an AED because the ambulance crew usually arrives before he does, but that’s not always the case.

True was just entering the park gate and the ambulance was behind him when news came over his radio that CPR was being performed and shocks had been given.

True said he didn’t get a chance to talk to the teen because as soon as the man was loaded into the ambulance, he had disappeared.

“The kid went back to work, like it was no big deal, just another day at the office,” True said.

In truth, White had never done anything like this before.

In his three-and-a-half years as a lifeguard and two-and-a-half years working at the lodge, he’d pulled children and senior citizens out of the shallow pool and dealt with a few seizures in swimmers, but “nothing too bad,” he said. “You get a little nervous afterwards, but it’s nothing like this.”

True and EMS crew member Dave Frensemeier praised the teen for having the presence of mind to fall back on his emergency medical training and let it guide his auctions, like the professionals do. After delivering the man safely to the hospital, Frensemeier said he and his partner went back to congratulate White on a job well done.

“For his age, to keep his head and have the wherewithal to do his skill, what he did was pretty impressive,” Frensemeier said.

“My partner and I said, ‘We’ve either traumatized this poor young man for life, or he’s going to catch “the bug,’” Frensemeier said.

“He should probably continue to do what he’s doing or at least stay in the field,” True said. “He’s definitely got the niche to do that.”

Learn how to save a life

The Brown County Health Department is offering classes to private individuals in CPR and the use of an AED, or automated external defibrillator.

The next available class date is Friday, April 21.

Call the health department at 812-988-2255 to register.

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Sara Clifford has been raising a family in Brown County since 2005 and leading the Brown County Democrat since late 2009. In addition to editor, she is the beat reporter for town government and writes columns, features and general news stories.