Lifesavers: Quick response by sister, first responders the key
News Report Staff
It’s been a little over three weeks since she quit breathing and her heart stopped.
Almost 25 days since she lay lifeless, as her sister breathed for her and an EMT performed chest compressions to keep blood pumping through her heart.
Nearly 600 hours since the ambulance rushed her to the hospital and her family prayed for her health.
Although time has passed, the events of the day have changed the life of Normalie Strickland, of rural Heartville, and the lives of her family.
It wasn’t a normal day for Strickland. How could it have been?
It was the Fourth of July — a day to celebrate with family and friends, which was just what she was doing at the annual Fourth of July parade in Dieterich.
The sidewalks and yards along the parade route were flooded with people. The air was hot, just like most days in July.
Floats, marching bands and trucks passed by, and Strickland watched while sitting in a chair under an umbrella that was providing just a bit of relief from the sun.
But 30 minutes into the parade, everything changed for Strickland and her family.
Strickland, who is 79, asked her younger sister to hold her drink. The next moments are ones she cannot recall, but they are moments her two sisters will never forget.
Norma slumped over in her chair, then her breathing stopped.
“It was all of a sudden” said Norma. “I really don’t know what happened. I don’t remember anything until I woke up in the hospital.”
Deb Richards, one of Strickland’s two younger sisters who were with her that day, was called over to help.
Richards, who has been a registered nurse for over 35 years, quickly started accessing the situation.
“My first thought was she was too hot, so we poured water on her. But then, she started turning grey on us,” recalls Richards, who added Dieterich volunteer firefighter Eric Robards and Effingham County Sheriff’s Deputy Phil Hardiek quickly came to Strickland’s aide.
As the three accessed Strickland’s condition, she quit breathing, and Richards could no longer detect a pulse. The pulse oximeter machine that Robards had hooked to Strickland also indicated she had taken a turn for the worse.
“We saw that she had quit breathing, and at the same time, I stopped getting a pulse,” said Richards. “So, we got her on the ground.”
Richards and Robards quickly jumped into action with Robards performing chest compressions and leading the counts, as Richards breathed for her sister using mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
“The nursing just kicked in, that is all it was,” said Richards in her role that day. “I wasn’t thinking of it as my sister. I was just making sure I was breathing to his count. I knew what to do when it was time to do it.”
After three repetitions of the life-saving technique, Strickland started coming back.
Richards rode along with Strickland to HSHS St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital. Along the way, Strickland was answering questions for the EMT, but she was confused with her answers.
“When she first came to, she was a little confused. She couldn’t remember what year or day it was,” said Richards.
Strickland spent two days at the hospital, where tests were conducted to determine what had caused the episode.
According to Richards, they still do not have an answer as to what went wrong that day. Several tests were run to determine if it was related to her heart, blood sugar, heat exhaustion or a stroke, but all tests indicated that none were the cause.
As a result, Strickland has been hooked to a heart monitor since leaving the hospital, and her family physician and a cardiologist have been working to determine what led to the events of that day.
She also experienced a similar episode last week, which resulted in shortness of breath and a flutter in her heart beat. But physicians still have no answers as to what is causing the irregularities.
For now, Strickland is taking it one day at a time.
“I feel lucky. I feel lucky to have family,” said Strickland, adding she is thankful her younger sister is a nurse.
Richards was thankful she was with her sister when it happened.
“I was just in the right place at the right time, and I did just what I was trained to do,” said Richards, who added her sister’s asystole is considered the worst kind. “It is the worst kind because it comes quickly without symptoms. Unless people are there to take care of you, you usually don’t make it.”
Strickland doesn’t remember much about her near death experience and laughed when asked if she saw a light at the end of the tunnel.
“The first thing they asked me was if I talked to Joe,” said Strickland, referring to her husband who died three years earlier. “He wasn’t there. He must have been off doing something else.”
Strickland has been in contact with the two men who were there to assist the day at the parade. She said Robards visited her in the hospital, and she took cookies to Hardiek as a thank you.
“I am just so thankful for my family and for the people in Effingham. They did a good job,” she said.