By E.A. Roberts
On December 4, 2008, I had the privilege of attending the eighth annual Heroes Award Luncheon, put on by the Yolo County Chapter of the American Red Cross. My youngest daughter Lara Musser was one among the group of heroes being honored. For the holiday season, I thought I would describe this life affirming event, that was so uplifting and restored my faith in human courage and sacrifice. When necessary, ordinary citizens will do whatever it takes to save the life of another.
Because I know my daughter’s circumstance so well, I will begin with her remarkable story first. While Lara was a genetics major at UCD this past year, she was employed as a supervisor of the UCD Intramural Sports Program in the Department of Campus Recreation. One of the reasons she was selected was because of her extensive knowledge in CPR and first aid. Lara actually trains and certifies lifeguards in CPR at the various pools throughout the city of Davis.
One evening some months ago, she was assigned to oversee multiple intramural volleyball games right next to Toomey Field. If anyone was injured, she was on staff to provide first aid. Someone came running towards her, screaming that a man was down in the next field over. Lara immediately inquired as to the severity of the situation. When she heard the explanation, she immediately called University Police Department dispatch. She was assured the ambulance was on its way.
Lara ran towards the victim. He was a UCD student, down on the ground after having been hit in the chest with a soccer ball. This poor young fellow was in the middle of some sort of seizure. He had been turned on his side to make sure he would not bite his tongue or obstruct his airway. Lara monitored the victim closely until the seizure was over. However, things turned bad in an instant. The unfortunate guy suddenly went limp, and stopped breathing. Lara felt for a pulse, but none was there.
Right away Lara’s extensive training kicked in, and she began administering CPR flawlessly. Because all activity on the field had stopped, and a large group of onlookers had gathered, another volleyball participant trained in CPR spotted the crisis. Laura Rombach had no hesitation in scooting across the field fast, to give my daughter immediate assistance. Without skipping a beat, Ms. Rombach took over giving breaths to the victim, while my daughter continued the vital compressions to keep the blood flowing within the victim’s body. Neither Lara nor Laura had ever met before that night.
The pair were relieved to hear the sirens of the fire engine and ambulance as they arrived on the scene some 4 minutes later. UCD firefighters Paul Fullerton, Scott Wilkes, Jonathan Poganski, Louis Cherko, Kristin Hunter, and AMR responders Robert Caulk, Amir Shariat, Nels Joslin all sprang into action. As luck would have it, three of the firefighters were student interns. Their supervisor, Captain Fullerton, allowed them the freedom to perform what they were trained to do, while carefully observing. He knew it was necessary to give them the opportunity in the field to practice what they had been taught.
My daughter continued with the compressions for continuity’s sake, as the victim was intubated. Effort was made to use a defibrillator to shock the victim’s heart back into beating once again. The only problem was, no steady pulse could be found. The victim was loaded into the ambulance with one of the AMR responders having taken over compressions from Lara. To my daughter’s chagrin, there was yet another attempt to shock the victim while in the ambulance, to no avail.
When Lara came home that night, she was distraught, not knowing whether the victim had lived or died. She had kept it together professionally while performing CPR, but the highly charged incident took its toll that night. Lara got very little sleep, and had difficulty concentrating in class the next day. She couldn’t stop thinking about the welfare of the victim. She was to later find out he miraculously survived, much to her relief.
We learned afterward at the luncheon itself how dire things had been. It had taken surgery at the hospital to restore the victim’s heartbeat, and a surgical team that refused to give up on someone so young. I had the honor of speaking with the victim at the Heroes Award Luncheon, and profusely thanked him for surviving! I explained how hard it would have been on my daughter had he not lived to tell his tale!
Lara’s supervisors did an immediate debriefing after the incident to determine what happened – what went right, what went wrong, could anything have been done better. The one thing that stuck out in Lara’s mind was how important her extensive training in CPR had been. She worried that had she not been so proficient in this technique, things may not have gone so well. Lara could not emphasize enough how vital repeated and regular practice in CPR is to ensure competence.
It also became clear it took a village to save this young man. Had my daughter not been there to lend him expert assistance, had Laura Rombach not rushed over to lend aid, if the UCD firefighters and AMR responders had not arrived as soon as they did to accomplish what they were trained to do, had the surgeons not fought doggedly for this man’s life, the victim would not have survived. It took every single person involved giving it their utter best to save him.
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Here are the stories of the other local heroes, as I remember them:
Sergeant Andrew Hill of the California Highway Patrol was informed about a motorcyclist driving at speeds of up to 140 miles per hour. Eventually setting up a roadblock with a fellow officer, the two parked both their cars face-to-face across from each other, and waited. When the out of control motorcyclist approached and saw the obstruction up ahead, he slowed down at first, then made the stupid decision to speed up. The idiot futilely attempted to slip in between the slight gap formed by the parked automobiles, but didn’t make it. Instead, he hit one of the CHP policemen, subsequently careening down a bank into a ditch. Sgt. Hill gave first aid to his downed fellow officer, calling backup for help. After assistance arrived, he gave aid to the injured motorcyclist. According to Sgt. Andrew Hill, he was just doing his job. Sgt. Hill’s fellow officer survived the incident, and is back on the job, hoping one day to go back out on patrol.
Shala Shores was an animal control officer, and seven months pregnant. She was finishing up a long shift, heading back to her base in Woodland. As she drove through the streets of West Sacramento, someone came running out and flagged her down. Shala was asked if she knew CPR, because a customer in a nearby store was suffering a heart attack. Not one second did Shala hesitate, but got out of her truck and sped toward the downed victim – as fast as a late term pregnant lady can run! Ms. Shores was able to administer CPR to the victim effectively, and would do the whole thing over again in a heartbeat if called upon.
Student John Scott was just sitting in his house, minding his own business, when he smelled smoke. Running outside to see what was transpiring, he noticed his neighbor’s house on fire, flames shooting up over the back fence. Without hesitation, John jumped the six foot barrier, and nearly landed in the middle of the blaze. The entire side of his neighbor’s house was on fire. Worried that someone was still inside the house, he banged on doors, to make sure everyone was out. Grabbing a fire hose, John made every effort to douse the flames. By the time firefighters arrived, he was relieved for their assistance. So inspired was he by watching the firefighters and ambulance responders leap into action, John has now set his course on becoming a member of their profession. He is already taking courses to start down his chosen path!
Marsha Taylor is one of those unsung heroes, who quietly volunteers her time to facilitate blood donation. She readies the equipment necessary for its collection. Despite her great fear of needles, she donates her blood platelets regularly. Without this sort of dedication, blood drives would not be as effective and successful as they are within Yolo county.
Dane Gallagher and Stuart Zane are two Woodland teens, who just happened to be in the right place at the right time. A young 14 year old girl was home alone, taking a shower. She heard two men break in, and quietly telephoned her mother and father via cell phone. Fortunately the girl’s dad rushed home in time, and arrived soon enough to chase off the burglars. As the two criminals ran away, the father gave chase, in hot pursuit. He was joined in his efforts by Dane and Stuart. Being much younger and faster than the infuriated father, the teen boys hunted down the two cowardly thieves, and held them until law enforcement arrived.
Ward and Nathan Trueblood are father and son, both having been involved in the medical field. Ward Trueblood is a retired surgeon, while his son Nathan is a member of the ski patrol. The two were driving along one day in a car, heading out into the beautiful countryside, when they spotted a bicyclist dumped on the ground, laying unconscious. The two stopped to render assistance. From the large vertical scar on the victim’s chest, Ward’s surgical experience led him to believe the male victim had suffered a heart attack. The medically trained pair immediately and successfully administered CPR, and said they would stop and render aid again in a second!
Willie Nelson is a UPS truck driver, who has been trained to keep a constant vigil on the road. He spotted a curious orange glow in the distance, while driving one dark evening on his usual rounds. As he approached the radiant light, he suddenly realized he was looking at an automobile on fire, with the occupant still inside. He quickly pulled over to the side of the road, leapt from his truck with fire extinguisher in hand. Attempting to put out the inferno, Willie’s extinguisher ran out of chemicals. By this time a big rig trucker had stopped to lend assistance. The two quickly came up with a plan. Willie dragged the victim from the burning car, while the big rig trucker threw dirt on the fire. Shortly thereafter the car exploded in a fountain of flame. Willie modestly shrugged his shoulders when relating the event after the fact. His hope was if this were to ever happen to him, someone would stop to help in the same way he had.
Art and Augie Harris are brothers, who were walking by a burning house. From the noises coming from within, it was clear small kids were still inside. Without hesitation, both ran inside the blazing house, and saved four children, running back to save the family cat. The incident was covered on local television, with the parents expressing deep gratitude to the brothers for saving their children. The mom and dad knew had it not been for Art and Augie, a tragedy of the severest magnitude could have unfolded. The family’s things were replaceable, whereas the children were not.
I went away from this awards ceremony having my faith in humankind restored. As grim as the current news is, everyday heroes carry on quietly, without fanfare, or any expectation of reward. They carry out their heroic acts because it is the right thing to do, even if it inconveniences them or puts them at risk. For some, it is something they do on their job on a daily basis. For others, it is something they feel called on to do because they are a member of the human race. Either way, they are heroes in the truest sense of the word and we are all forever grateful to them.
Lesson to be learned: Don’t ever doubt that decent people exist, and will lend a hand when things look bleakest. They will do so even at risk to themselves, expecting nothing in return, other than the sincere wish to make things better – to save a life. Oftentimes it will take multiple good Samaritans working together every step of the way to effect a positive outcome. Never underestimate the value of a single contribution for the greater good.
Elaine Roberts Musser is an attorney who concentrates her efforts on elder law and aging issues, especially in regard to consumer affairs. If you have a comment or particular question or topic you would like to see addressed in this column, please make your observations at the end of this article in the comment section.