by Jim Boyle
It’s hard to imagine, but an Otsego man who went into cardiac arrest while driving this past week was actually pretty lucky.
Almond Drone, 52, attracted the attention of what turned out to be an impromptu medical team.
“This has to be a God thing,” said Cheryl Jarvis, a resident of Nowthen and an ICU nurse for Unity Hospital in Fridley. “Why would three nurses (in three separate vehicles) all be at the same intersection at the same time? He had to put us there to make a difference.”
Drone is alive but remains in serious condition at Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids where he was brought this past Monday by Elk River Ambulance.
This group of nurses and others who helped out at the scene are now praying that Drone survives his nearly disastrous medical situation.
It became apparent to several motorists that this man was in trouble as he was observed travelling 5 to 10 mph through the intersection of School Street and Freeport Avenue.
Nurses who saw him recognized he was exhibiting signs of a medical situation. He proceeded south on Freeport, drifting to the right at first and hitting the curb alongside an apartment complex and then heading back over four lanes of traffic and up over the curb on the other side of the street before coming to a halt before a tree.
Megahn Hollenbeck, a 32-year-old Blaine woman had watched in horror from her rear view mirror. She had noticed the position of his head and knew he was in trouble.
Angela Berthaiume, of Orrock witnessed the same scene from the opposite end. She and her father, Jerry Berthiaume, had been approaching Freeport Avenue on School Street when Angela noticed something wrong with the motorist.
Instead of turning left toward Cub Foods and TCF Bank like they had planned, they took a right to follow Drone instead.
“I was afraid he was going to hit someone or the clinic,” Angela Berthiaume said.
The Sherburne County Dispatch Center began fielding calls on the incident at 2:08 p.m. on Feb. 20.
Hollenbeck’s mother-in-law, Lani Hollenbeck, had been in another vehicle up ahead of Megahn and also thought something was awry. She turned around and went back when she saw her daughter-in-law stop.
Jarvis stopped, too. She had been at the stoplight when she saw Drone go through and she noticed he was slumped in the vehicle. She told her mother, whom she was talking to on her cell phone, to call 911.
“I turned around and went back to the scene,” Jarvis said.
Jerry Berthiaume ran to the side of the ailing motorist and put the car into park. Others helped pull the man out of the car. One person had a jackknife and cut the shoulder strap to get the man out.
Lani Hollenbeck, one of the RNs to come onto the scene, began administering CPR. She and her daughter-in-law work as pediatric nurses at Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis.
Jarvis, the ICU nurse, came to Lani Hollenbeck’s side to provide the same kind of encouragement nurses give one another in a hospital setting.
This was different, however. They were on the side of the road with complete strangers, but their skill set still came alive.
“When you’re at a hospital you have everything at your fingertips,” Hollenbeck said. “And even though its not something you do everyday, it comes back to you. It’s amazing.”
Lani Hollenbeck was thankful to have Jarvis behind her offering words of encouragement and knowing she had a partner who could step in at any moment.
At one point in time, Hollenbeck broke a rib of Drone’s, a very common occurrence while administering chest compressions.
“It can be unnerving,” Jarvis said. “You hear and you feel it. I just told her its OK and to keep going.”
Eventually, Hollenbeck tired and Jarvis took her place. The first Elk River police officer on the scene let the nurses continue to do what they were doing. Another person who was at the scene said she was a body guard, and she helped keep the patient’s airway clear by performing the jaw thrust procedure to keep a person from choking on their tongue.
As more emergency personnel arrived, Hollenbeck used an AED machine to shock the patient. She got his rhythm back and Jarvis by then been able to ventilate the patient with an ambu bag. As more police and the paramedics arrived, they took over medical care.
“I had never been called on to render care like that in the field before,” Jarvis said. “I thought it went pretty well.”
That’s when witnesses began to share with Elk River officers what had transpired moments earlier. Once the ambulance pulled away with Drone in it, those who responded began to assess what had transpired.
Both Angela Berthiaume and Megahn Hollenbeck, who had called 911 before bursting onto the scene, said they couldn’t believe what they had witnessed after it was all over.
“It’s crazy when I look back at my whole day,” Megahn Hollenbeck said.
The Blaine woman was in Elk River to cash in on a Flowers Plus flower card her sister-in-law had purchased at Parker Elementary School.
The group she was with had been at Pizza Ranch moments earlier and she was following her mother-in-law to the flower shop on a road she never traverses otherwise.
Berthiaume was heading to a bank that she would later find out was closed due to it being President’s Day.
“I’m just so happy he’s getting the medical care he needs,” said Berthiaume, who noted she did not want to witness a third person die before her eyes.
Her twin sister died two years ago — two days after their 28th birthday — from a blood clot,” she said.
Her boss of more than a decade had been diagnosed with cancer a few months before that. She held her boss’ hand on the day he had died from the spread of the disease.
“I couldn’t handle seeing a third person die in front of me,” Berthiaume said. “I’m just glad this man is getting the help he needs and I hope he makes it.”
Berthiaume and the rest of the impromptu care and medical team do, too.
Lani Hollenbeck, who lost her father when he was 50 years old and vividly remembers when her husband suffered a heart attack when he was only 37, said there is perhaps a lesson to be learned in all of this excitement.
“I really encourage people to learn CPR, learn to use an AED and even though its not a skill you use on an everyday basis, if you have a good basic understanding you can totally change someone’s life and help them.”