Brenda Whisenhunt is thankful to be alive.
And this Weeping Water rural resident is more than appreciative of the coordinated effort of Cass County Emergency Management Agency’s EMS system, Elmwood Rescue Squad, Weeping Water Rescue Squad and Cass County Sheriff’s Department members who kept her that way.
Sometime between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. July 22, Brenda suffered a heart attack shortly after she came into her house after mowing the yard.
“I don’t remember the whole incident,” Brenda says. “My grandchildren were at the house. I fed them breakfast and went outside to do some touching up on the lawn. I was using a push mower, and then I came inside. My 7-year-old grandson said I told him ‘I’m not feeling well.’”
Brenda laid down, and possibly placed a call to her daughter, Jackie Palmer, who was working in Omaha. Someone notified the sheriff’s department and Deputy Sean Sommers was first on the scene.
Next, EMTs Tim Maloney and Doug Donnelson arrived.
CCEMA’s paramedic, Ethan Studebaker, was already on a call in the area with Weeping Water Rescue Squad.
“So the EMTs responded,” said CCEMA’s director Sandy Weyers.
Jacob Blunt, an EMT from Elmwood Rescue Squad also responded. “She was alert at that time but sweating a lot. She responded with two-word sentences.”
Jacob said Brenda was angry when she learned they were not transporting her to Bergen Mercy Hospital.
“No,” Jacob told her. “We are not going to Bergen. We’re taking you to St. Elizabeth in Lincoln.”
Tim, Doug, Jacob and Elmwood Rescue Squad member Kenny Kunz put Brenda in the ambulance. “She went into a Grand Mal seizure. We checked her pulse. I remember yelling at Kenny, Code 99, ‘Get that paramedic here,’ I said. “And then it went to Code 3.,” Jacob recalled.
Their prayers were answered when they learned the Weeping Water ambulance, with Ethan in it, was heading back from its call.
“Ethan met the Elmwood ambulance at the intersection of Highways 50 and 34. Ethan hopped in with Jacob and Doug,” Sandy said. “She was unresponsive at this time.”
Jacob used the defibrillator. “She had vomited all over the place and her oxygen was down to 40 or 50, so I tried to get her airway cleared and suctioned her airways,” he explained.
As a paramedic, Ethan was able to gain interosseous access for medication administration. “It’s an Advanced Life Support Skill. They take a needle and drill into the bone and push a drug through it,” said Dr. Eric Ernest, Physician Medical Director for CCEMA’s EMS, Weeping Water Rescue Squad and Elmwood Rescue Squad. “They gave her normal saline, epinephrine. Ethan was pretty quick.”
At this time, they were eight minutes away from St. Elizabeth’s.
“She was still in cardiac arrest. Doug used the defibrillator seven or eight times. There was a pause factor, and then she was back into cardiac arrest,” Ethan said. “We continued chest compressions.”
By the time they reached the hospital, Brenda’s oxygen level was brought to 90 percent.
Brenda was taken to surgery and she received a stent in her heart. Despite the surgery, Dr. Doug Netz, St. Elizabeth’s cardiologist, gave the responding team total credit for saving her life.
“I wouldn’t be sitting here now if it wasn’t for them,” Brenda said.
“If you get right down to it, the paramedic saved the day,” Kenny said.
Kenny also gave kudos to Doug.
“Doug worked his rear off giving CPR the whole way.”
Following surgery, Brenda was placed in an induced coma and stayed in the hospital for 13 days. “They chilled her body for 24 to 36 hours,” Dr. Ernest said. “It’s called therapeutic hypothermia. They bring the body temperature to 90 degrees.”
After returning home, Brenda started cardiac rehab. “I’m doing very well. I’ve been tired a lot lately but I’m pretty active.”
Jacob said he offered to switch with Doug to give him a rest, but Doug wanted to stay with it. “He had a rhythm going,” Jacob said.
“It was a very well-coordinated effort between the first responders on the scene, the quick recognition of cardiac arrest, high quality CPR and quick involvement of a paramedic to provide cardiac arrest medical care. It was a full team effort,” Dr. Ernest said
Sandy said Weeping Water Rescue Squad driver also deserved credit. “He expedited the call so Ethan could take care of Brenda,” she said.
Looking back, Brenda had little warning about the heart attack. She had never smoked and simply wasn’t expecting a cardiac incident, although her mother was prone to heart problems.
“The symptoms are often silent,” Dr. Ernest said. “There may be chest pain or shortness of breath. In this case, it was very silent. Women tend to present differently and have discomfort in their back.”
Brenda suffered no heart damage from the incident. Her EEG level is normal and she experienced no brain damage.
“It was a high level stress call, but everything worked. Practice, practice and practice. That’s what we do. I don’t know how much smoother it could have gone,” Jacob said.
Brenda’s husband Jackie said they were concerned about getting emergency medical care when they first moved to rural Weeping Water. Now, they know help will get on its way.
“I can’t thank you enough. There are no words to express how grateful I am,” Brenda said.
“That’s what this program is all about. It’s cooperation with the local rescue squads so the outcome is as good as it can be,” Sandy said.