Willmar First Responders’ Heroic Actions on Display

Willmar First Responders to the Rescue Junior Hockey News

Published: Wednesday, 21 Mar 2018
By: Mike Bowman

Call it fate. Call it luck. Call it coincidence. However you label it, there’s no question it’s a combination of human interaction and being at the right place at the right time. The story of what happened Friday night March 9th at the Willmar Civic Center, where the Willmar Warhawks of the NA3HL were playing their final home game of the regular season, has nothing to do with hockey. The Warhawks used this platform as a night to honor local Police, Firemen and EMS workers for their selfless service to the community. It was also a night where the team recognized the parents of the players, and the billet families that host them. But it was another event that would define this evening for so many.

Shortly after warmups, as the ceremony to recognize the billets and parents was set to begin, a medical emergency was unfolding atop the stands by the press box area. A local resident (we’ll refer to her as ‘Mary’ to maintain her privacy), had collapsed and gone into cardiac arrest. Literally within seconds, there were several EMS members attending to Mary. They immediately checked for breathing. Nothing. A pulse check. Nothing. This was a tragedy in the making. Suddenly more EMS and other medical and public-service workers were assisting. One called 9-1-1. Another began CPR. Others started clearing a space around Mary so that the workers had room to work. Yet even others set up a some blankets around the area for privacy. The activity occurring around Mary during this medical emergency had looked as if it had been rehearsed and practiced to the ’T’ many times over. Police, firefighters, paramedics — all working together like a team of veterans. All were technically off-duty, but they all will tell you that in those lines of work, they are always on duty, because it’s a way of life, not just a job.

What seemed like a lifetime was just the first 2 minutes passing, with a lot of silence, praying, crying and concern around Mary’s presence. CPR and resuscitation attempts continued, to no avail. The workers continued their tireless efforts, staying in rhythm and tending to seemingly every detail of the emergency situation which had unfolded without warning right before their eyes. A group of people who mostly hadn’t directly worked together now had the life of one of their community members in their collective hands.

Within another 2-3 minutes, ambulance was curbside and more paramedics were upstairs at her side, assisting their colleagues who were entrenched in a battle against time. The pink cancer-awareness Warhawks jersey, which just moments before she collapsed had been presented to Mary by the parents of the player her family billets, had to be cut off as an AED (defibrillator) was used. This was the only time that chest pumps and assisted breaths were not being administered. They checked for pulse again. Still nothing.

Mary had been unconscious and not breathing for over 5 minutes now. Yet another attempt with the defibrillator. Ready. Clear. Shock. After the AED, a LUCAS chest compression machine helped with additional CPR before they got her heart back into rhythm. Suddenly a sign of optimism. A faint pulse is detected. After nearly 6 minutes of no pulse or breathing, Mary was again showing some signs of life. An IV was hooked up. Breathing tubes inserted. Life-assisting efforts continue as they attempt to stabilize Mary and prepare her for transport to the hospital. Another 10-15 minutes pass by, with a group of 12-15 service workers continuing to focus on saving and preserving the quality of life of Mary. Finally, they are able to stabilize her enough to get her on the transport board, and get her down the steps to the gurney, where they’ve wrapped her in blankets to keep her body warm inside the frigid arena. At the bottom of the steps, with a large crowd gathered, they paused once again to listen for heartbeat and take a pulse, which was still faint. Satisfied enough to continue transport, they took Mary out to the waiting ambulance and transported her to the local hospital. She was eventually flown to the regional cardiac center in St. Cloud, where work continued as Mary was stabilized and treated by some of the areas best physicians and nurses.

It appears now that Mary will be ok, and should make a full recovery. She had no pulse and was not breathing for around 6 minutes. If oxygen isn’t circulated to the brain for that amount of time, quite a bit of brain damage is done, which would severely limit the quality of life of anyone that survives it. The medical professionals who tended to Mary are all certain of one thing. The immediate action of the first responders, to continually administer breaths and pump her heart to circulate blood to her vital organs, not only saved her life, but also preserved the quality of life.

Whether you think someone was looking over Mary from above, or it was fate, or coincidence that this cardiac event occurred on this particular night at this particular place, one thing is certain. The first responders who were on the scene immediately after Mary collapsed have changed the lives of many people, all who know and love Mary, and all who witnessed the event. It’s even likely that a younger child in attendance that saw these events unfold, and later spoke to their parents asking them questions about what happened, will be affected in such a way that they too one day want to be a hero, a first responder, like the ones in Willmar that night. We are all grateful for all you do, all while just being you.