Woman revived at community centre on election day

Carroll, Luke Nov 2015 Woman heart attack IMG_4736
Mary Tsai, Executive Director of GNAG and Clare Rogers, Head of Communications, used a defibrillator and their CPR and first aid training to come to the aid of a woman who suffered a heart attack outside the polling station on October 19.
Photo: Liz McKeen

By Luke Carroll

Two staff members at the Glebe Community Centre went beyond the call of duty on election day, reviving a woman who experienced a heart attack outside the polling station.

Clare Rogers, Head of Communications, and Mary Tsai, Executive Director of the Glebe Neighbourhood Activities Group (GNAG), were working on election day (the Glebe Community Centre was the location of an election polling station) when a worker alerted them that a woman had collapsed. “One of the after-school childcare staff ran in and said there’s a woman who’s collapsed on the ground by the front door. Clare and I immediately ran out to her,” Tsai said.

According to Tsai, she was struggling for breath when they arrived at the scene. The two immediately covered the woman with blankets and attempted to revive her, to no avail. The two received help from a physician who happened to be picking up his child at the community centre at the time.

“She wasn’t shaking or anything but there was severe distress. She was lying there, unable to move, unable to speak and staring into space. But she was definitely alive,” Rogers said.

Said Tsai, “You kind of go on automatic pilot, because the first thing I said was, ‘Someone go call 911 and get the AED machine (defibrillator).’ Then I had to think, who is saying this?”

The woman began to turn blue. When they checked her vital signs and listened for breath, they found she was no longer breathing. They then began three-person CPR. After a couple of minutes of CPR, they administered one shock, which brought the woman back. This was just as the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) arrived.

“She was speaking and she was making sounds and she was confused. Then the paramedics took over and brought her to the hospital,” Tsai said.

Despite how quickly the EMS arrived, it felt like forever to Rogers. “It was all very, very quick. I remember the second set of compressions and I said to somebody, ‘Where the hell is the ambulance?’ and it had been less than three minutes,” Rogers said. “When somebody’s life is on the line, it seems like the EMS can’t get there fast enough, but they got there in three minutes.”

The woman had not come to vote alone. Her brother was waiting for her in the car, and had no idea what was happening. It was when he saw the paramedics carrying her out that he was alerted to the situation. Tsai explained to him what had happened. Tsai said she has talked to the brother since, and that his sister is in stable condition.

“I am relieved she survived and I am really glad that she is doing okay. I’m thankful for that. I’m happy that we were able to respond so quickly. We are all trained here and everyone would have done the same,” Tsai said.

While all the Glebe Community Centre staff members are trained in CPR and first aid, Tsai explained that this was still a different situation to experience. “You try to take control and be really calm and firm, but of course, when it’s all said and done, you’re quite shaken afterwards. You’re like, wow, what just happened here? But in the moment, all of us worked very well together. We just jumped into action.”

 Rogers said that it was a traumatic experience, but that her husband and most likely her co-workers feel safer knowing how they responded. “My husband teased me when I got home, saying, ‘I feel a whole lot better about my chances.’ I was happy it made him feel much more reassured,” Rogers said. “I think that has been a side-effect for a lot of the staff, including myself. They saw Mary and I use the things they learned in first aid and we used it – that was probably really reassuring for our staff, that it’s not just talk.”

Said Tsai, “The lesson here is that the AED (defibrillator) really makes a difference. It’s so great to have these devices in public buildings like the Glebe Community Centre. That’s really what saved her life.”

Luke Carroll lives in the Glebe and is a journalism student at Carleton. He hopes for a career in sport journalism.

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