WATCH VIDEO: Kathy Ringenberg
The Woodruff High School wrestling team has a motto: “Tough days don’t last. Tough people do.”
Brandon Sanders thought often of that motto from his hospital bed. Long after the feeding tube and ventilator were out, long after he’d rebounded from pneumonia and weight loss, he faced months of rehabilitation from a devastating spinal injury suffered at a December 2008 match.
As the young man recalls, he’d gone for a hip toss, landed hard on his right side, couldn’t breathe, closed his eyes. ... It’s a bit blurry, but he knows now that he fractured his C-2 vertebrae. Oh, and his heart stopped — twice.
Kathy Ringenberg remembers it clearly. The District 150 nurse had accompanied her daughter to the out-of-town meet. She was watching the action unfold when Brandon crumpled to the mat. His breaths became short and fast, she says, “like a fish out of water.”
An athletic trainer asked Brandon to move his arms and legs. No response.
“That’s when I knew something was really bad,” Kathy says. On that toughest of days, she was ready.
Not many people travel with an emergency breathing barrier. But Kathy is a Red Cross-trained CPR instructor; she teaches other public school employees how to save lives. In fact, not a year after Brandon’s accident, one of Kathy’s own pupils was summoned to save a teacher’s life. And not long before the accident, she’d been chatting with another school official: What if something happened at this match?
Something did. Kathy rushed to the wrestler’s side, took his radial pulse, felt nothing. So, “off we went. We started the compressions.”
Finally — a gasp of air.
It’s been a long road to recovery. But Brandon is tough people. Though his wrestling career was cut short, the graduating senior plans to go to college and become an athletic trainer.
“When I first woke up in the hospital, I couldn’t feel my whole left side of my body,” Brandon remembers. Now he feels like a new man.
*Because she was trained by the Red Cross in CPR, Kathy Ringenberg also is receiving the Certificate of Merit. The certificate is signed by the U.S. president and is the highest lifesaving award given by the Red Cross. Kathy’s instructor was Darlene Radosavlyev.
WATCH VIDEO: Phil Hornung and Len Jatkowski
Len Jatkowski and Phil Hornung
Len Jatkowski and Phil Hornung are used to deadlines. As Journal Star employees, their jobs involve producing and distributing the area’s largest daily newspaper.
It’s no surprise, then, that on Jan. 13, 2009, Len and Phil beat the clock when it mattered most.
That morning, mailroom employee Jeff Gordon walked out to his car, then abruptly turned around. He was gripped by panic. He couldn’t get any air. Jeff remembers shouting, “I need help!” By force of will, he struggled back into the building and leaned over a partition — coincidentally, right by the automated external defibrillator (AED) on the wall.
“He was going, ‘Lenny, I can’t breathe,’ ” recalls the newspaper’s transportation foreman. Len rushed to Jeff’s side, easing him to the floor.
Meanwhile, across the room, Phil saw Jeff in distress. The nightside distribution manager dropped what he was doing and ran over to his long-time friend.
A moment later, Jeff was out cold. Tick, tick, tick. The pair started compressions and rescue breathing. Tick, tick, tick.
Time is critical in a cardiac emergency. Giving early CPR, as Len and Phil did, helped circulate oxygenated blood to Jeff’s brain and vital organs until advanced medical personnel arrived.
The duo approached the rescue like it was their job, staying calm, staying focused. Both men had been trained by the Red Cross to handle such a crisis; Len also is a volunteer firefighter in Peoria Heights.
“Everything we did was in an orderly fashion,” Phil says. Neither he nor Len feels much like a hero.
As for Jeff, he can’t heap enough praise upon his co-workers. He wants to hug them every day. They’ve afforded him precious time with his family and a new lease on life.
“My whole outlook is totally different now. I’m not as stressed out or bitter about as much,” Jeff admits, adding, “I went out and bought a Harley!”
Every second counts. And for Jeff, “it wasn’t my time.”
*Because they were trained by the Red Cross in CPR, Len Jatkowski and Phil Hornung also are receiving the Certificate of Merit. The certificate is signed by the U.S. president and is the highest lifesaving award given by the Red Cross. Their instructors were Darlene Radosavlyev and Audra Ulrich.
WATCH VIDEO: Denise Enlow, Lisa Lee and Jerry Lee
Denise Enlow, Lisa Lee and Jerry Lee
Lisa Lee shies from the spotlight. Being the center of attention? Not her thing. After all, on Jan. 21, 2009, the spotlight was supposed to shine on her son, playing his final eighth-grade basketball game at Beverly Manor in Washington.
Less than two minutes into the game, a commotion rocked the stands. A woman shouted, “Please help my dad!” Gene Carroll of Pekin was having a heart attack.
Lisa reacted as any stunned spectator would: “In my mind I thought, ‘Someone else will go, someone else is more qualified. ...’ ”
Then, whoomp — her husband elbowed her in the ribs. It jolted Lisa: She works for the Red Cross Blood Services Region. She knows CPR. She was the one to go. Lisa sprang into action and found the older gentleman unconscious.
Lisa’s brother-in-law, Jerry Lee, was right behind her. It had been 20 years since he’d last taken CPR. But the same concern that prompted him to learn it back then — “I wanted to learn it for my dad. I wanted to know what to do,” he says — was propelling him up the bleachers now for someone else’s father.
Meanwhile, Gene’s daughter ran toward the snack stand to flag for help. Beverly Manor parent Denise Enlow was working concessions when she heard the woman’s pleas and joined the rescue. As a home occupational health worker, Denise says her “gut reaction is to help.”
Lisa started chest compressions. Jerry began rescue breathing. Denise took over CPR. Someone ran for the defibrillator. Two shocks later and one life saved, three very exhausted people were left to process the scene.
Gene’s family is forever grateful to the trio for giving them another summer with grandpa in his prized garden. Lisa, Jerry and Denise still think about the incident to this day. And they all recount a similar experience: Their training simply kicked in and erased any apprehension.
“I’ve kind of been blessed throughout my whole life keeping cool in crisis situations,” says Jerry.
“I heard my instructor’s voice in my head,” echoes Denise.
“That’s the whole point of learning CPR,” concludes Lisa. “It’s everyday people who are called to help.”
*Because she was trained by the Red Cross in CPR, Lisa Lee also is receiving the Certificate of Merit. The certificate is signed by the U.S. president and is the highest lifesaving award given by the Red Cross. Lisa’s instructor was Mary Kay DeVries.
WATCH VIDEO: Janet Riley, Judy Barrick and Karyn Dean
Janet Riley, Judy Barrick and Karyn Dean
Perhaps it was pure coincidence. Perhaps it was divine intervention. Or a bit of both. Whatever caused the stars to align for Michelle Webb on Sept. 11, 2009, she and her rescuers remain grateful.
“I’ve played through the what-ifs,” Michelle says. “There were no mistakes that day.”
Had it been a half-hour later, Michelle’s Harrison Primary School classroom might have been empty. The third-graders wouldn’t have been there to see their teacher collapse by a file cabinet. They wouldn’t have summoned help at 11:45 a.m., when Michelle’s heart experienced ventricular tachycardia, an irregular rhythm.
Had it been any other morning, Janet Riley and Judy Barrick might not have been together in a nearby room. It was only the second time that Janet, a special education resource teacher, had team-taught with Judy. Usually, Janet would take her kids to another class. They wouldn’t have been able to work in tandem, with Judy phoning paramedics and Janet checking Michelle’s pulse. They wouldn’t have teamed up for CPR, with Judy giving rescue breaths and Janet doing compressions.
“We can’t begin to stress all the little things that took place,” Judy says.
Had it been any day but a Friday, nurse Karyn Dean wouldn’t have been at Harrison’s clinic. She was new to the school — it was only her third visit. She wouldn’t have been there to operate the never-used AED or to deliver two shocks to Michelle’s heart.
“It was almost like an out-of-body experience,” Karyn recalls.
Had it been any other day, Michelle might not be here. Period.
Sudden cardiac arrest can happen anytime, anywhere, to anyone — even to a fit teacher in the prime of her life. The fact that it struck her when and where it did has her co-workers convinced something larger was at play.
“There are two lessons that stand out in my mind,” Janet says. “First and foremost, God answered our prayers that day. ... So many people praying for a mother, wife, teacher, colleague and friend that God let us have our way.
“Also, I learned that doing something is better than doing nothing. If people remember only one thing, remember this: Get trained. Get that defibrillator.”
*Because she was trained by the Red Cross in CPR, Janet Riley also is receiving the Certificate of Merit. The certificate is signed by the U.S. president and is the highest lifesaving award given by the Red Cross. Janet’s instructor was Kathy Ringenberg.