After the save

February 9, 2009
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As a corporate CPR instructor, one of the biggest job benefits is seeing how training can save a life. The first response team at Trans International LLC in Menomonee Falls, Wisc., did just that.

“Matt’s down!”
Carolyn Trokan was in her office when she heard the shouts: “Matt’s down! Matt’s down!” Carolyn ran to the hallway; Matt lay on the floor. She kneeled to see if he was breathing. In the meantime, someone called 9-1-1. Carolyn shouted for a co-worker to bring the onsite AED. The rest of the company’s first response team arrived — one person started CPR while Carolyn put the AED on the victim.

Carolyn had wanted to be able to help if a co-worker had a medical emergency. That’s why she joined Trans International’s first response team 10 years ago. “I just couldn’t see having something happen and me just standing there watching,” said Carolyn, a customer service manager.

Carolyn’s chance to help came in spring 2007 when Matt went into cardiac arrest. Four of the company’s response team members had been retrained in an AED course just a few weeks before.

“Everything happened like in a textbook,” she said. “We cut his T-shirt off and got the AED pads on.”

One shock from the AED, and within 45 seconds Matt was conscious. Soon after, paramedics arrived. The first response team’s quick actions helped save their co-worker’s life.

Emotions run high
So many times after an event, the focus is on the recovery and outcome for the victim. But what about the rescuers? Many people who take part in a save like the one at Trans International experience some after-effects from helping save a life.

“I did a lot of crying for a month after,” Carolyn said. “I felt extreme gratitude for being able to make a difference — and very humbled.”

Sleeplessness, replaying the event and experiencing a host of emotions are all common for rescuers. After a save, rescuers often feel a rush of adrenaline that may last several days.

Making sure response team members have emotional support is key. According to the American Heart Association’s AED Implementation Guide, “Responders to a cardiac emergency need significant support to ensure that the event does not damage their emotional health. It is important to allow responders to voice their fears and concerns in a non-threatening environment.”

As an AHA instructor, I emphasize this point to my students, especially those who may be part of a workplace first response team. I understand the feelings that can come about after a save. I experienced them firsthand after giving CPR to my father-in-law when he collapsed from cardiac arrest more than 10 years ago. Fortunately, my husband and I were able to help rescue him by giving him CPR until paramedics arrived. While we were overjoyed he survived, we were surprised by the emotions that followed for several weeks.

When people have a personal connection to the victim, it can make the days after the save more challenging. The best thing people can do is to talk about the event with someone they trust — whether friends, family member, other people on their response team or a professional counselor.

Most community fire and police departments have a victims’ services department. Counselors may be available to help with debriefing or offer advice to rescuers after an event.

As part of its first response team program, Trans International has established a debriefing protocol that’s followed after any event — from an asthma attack to a laceration to cardiac arrest. Immediately after a code, the first response team meets with a representative from upper management or human resources for a debriefing. The purpose is to discuss what happened, how the team responded and make sure that the response team members are OK. Responders share a bond
Surprisingly, when I met with the Trans International team one week after their save, they were asking more specific questions about what they could have done better. They all agreed that they wouldn’t think twice about responding again to an emergency. Not long after, another staff member collapsed from exhaustion and dehydration.

“We were an even more efficient team,” Carolyn said. “We all just did what we needed to do. It gave us confidence.”

The emotions, while real, are usually short-lived and shouldn’t deter people from taking action. One unusual benefit of being a part of the experience is the unique bond it creates among rescuers.

“We will never forget about each other,” Carolyn says. “We will always share the bond of saving someone’s life.”

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