A heart on the line
By Sam Jack
Shanna Henry arrived at a friend’s rural Kingman County house on Jan. 16, having made plans the previous day to give him a ride to a doctor’s appointment.
The friend had been feeling ill the night before, Henry said, but he didn’t think he was having a heart attack, and he felt it would be OK to wait until the next day to go to the doctor.
He was still talking and moving normally as he stood up and walked with Henry to the door of his house. But then he collapsed.
“It was the scariest thing,” Henry said. “I’ve seen sick people before, but to see him go from walking, with cognizant mind, to just collapsed and non-responsive, was really frightening.”
Henry quickly pulled out her cell phone and called 911. That’s when she made a connection with Kingman 911 dispatcher Jamee Hillman.
“We have to listen to what our caller is telling us, listen to key words to verify whether the patient is breathing or not breathing, conscious or unconscious, and go from there,” Hillman said. “Shanna gave an amazing description of the situation that she was dealing with. She painted the picture for me about how he was positioned. I knew at that point that we had to take action to get him on his back and flattened out. I said, ‘You just have to grab his ankles, and you need to pull.’”
Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the Feb. 20 print edition of The Times-Sentinel. To see stories like this sooner and to get all your community news, start your subscription. Call 316-540-0500 to get the next edition delivered to your home.
Henry, who is smaller than her friend, wasn’t sure that she would be strong enough to reposition him.
“It was challenging, but it’s amazing how the adrenaline kicked in. It didn’t seem like any effort at all,” she said.
With the patient lying on his back, Hillman told Henry to start administering CPR. Henry had been through CPR training, but it was several decades ago.
“The reason I’m doing this interview is that I want people to know how much that dispatcher at Kingman helped me,” Henry said. “I couldn’t have done what I did without her on the phone.
“She wanted to make sure there was a free airway. Then I had him in the best position I could get him, and she told me to just straddle him, and she explained to me how to do chest compressions with my hands. She told me where to place them on his chest, and then she just counted with me and said, ‘Just put as much force into it as you can.’ I was literally using all my body weight, as much as I could, to give him chest compressions.”
Henry kept giving chest compressions, two per second, until volunteers from the Cheney Fire Department arrived on the scene to take over. Hillman stayed on the phone, counting out compressions, the whole time.
“She was so encouraging,” Henry said. “She just kept saying, ‘You’re doing a great job, Shanna, you’re doing a great job. Just keep it up.’ That was what I needed to hear, because I felt so alone. She said, ‘Even when you hear the sirens coming, you just keep doing it, keep counting with me, keep pushing, until they can take over.’
“So that’s what I did. And I looked back on my cell phone later, it was about 11 minutes of chest compressions that I was doing until Cheney got out there. They pretty much had to pry me off of him, because I wasn’t going to quit.”
Only later did it occur to Henry to wonder how Hillman knew that she was doing a “great job,” given the limitations of a phone call. But Hillman said she had plenty of indication.
“A lot of people struggle with all the questions that we ask, but it actually does matter,” Hillman said. “That’s why I won’t ever apologize for putting somebody through protocol questions: because it works. And Shanna was phenomenal. She did everything that I asked her to do. We’ve had people that have refused, for various reasons, to do lifesaving support, and she just did what I asked her to do. She is a remarkable human.”
While Hillman was talking Henry through the emergency, other Kingman dispatchers, Carolyn Heath and Jeremy Webb, were busy making sure emergency responders were dispatched and accurately apprised of the situation.
Members of the Cheney Fire Department – Brad Ewy, Jerry Peitz, Jackson Chance, Cale Walsh and Macay Ewy – were first to arrive, taking over from Henry until Kingman County EMS arrived to transport the patient to the hospital.
Henry said her friend spent time in intensive care before transferring to a rehabilitation hospital.
“He’s doing better every day, he’s improving every day. So it’s very encouraging,” she said.
Hillman did not know the outcome of her call with Henry until the City of Cheney posted on Facebook about the Citizen Lifesaving Award that Henry and the Cheney Fire volunteers received last week. When the post came up in her feed, she cried out to her husband, ‘He survived!’”
“Being a 911 dispatcher is a lot of times like being in a library full of books, pulling the books off of the shelves and reading a few pages, but not every actually finishing a chapter,” Hillman said. “We don’t really ever get the end result or the outcome. So it was really amazing to open my Facebook that day and see the city’s post.”
According to the American Heart Association, when people who suffer cardiac arrest outside the hospital receive immediate CPR, they survive nearly half the time. The survival rate without CPR is extremely low. Henry said her experience has inspired her to raise awareness of CPR and of the need to make sure vital medical information is available to responders during an emergency.
“I think people just don’t give themselves enough credit. They think, ‘Oh, I couldn’t do that.’ My message is, ‘Yes you can,’” Henry said. “I’m a little bit short, but I’m still pretty physically able, and I was able to do it. There is definitely an adrenaline rush that just keeps you going.”