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Three Wellness Center staff members aid in saving a life

It started out as a typical day for sophomore Isaac Yellowbank, who plays “noon ball” every Monday at the Wellness Center with his father-in-law, Sam Prue. That’s where his memory gets hazy.

“The other team beat us right away, so we were only on the court for maybe 10 minutes,” said Prue, who noticed the 33-year-old’s “lagging” game.

Between games Yellowbank sat down along a nearby wall.

“I felt like I was getting choked, all I could hear was echoes and I just remember someone’s silhouette walking away,” he said.

Shortly after, he slumped over attracting the attention of Robert Tripp, a Wellness Center graduate assistant.

“It almost appeared like he was having a seizure,” Tripp said. “I just laid him on the floor, instructed someone to go get Wendy (Johnson) and Samantha (Lowry) and someone else to call 911.”

Wellness Center assistant directors, Wendy Johnson and Samantha Lowry, checked for a pulse and decided to begin CPR on Yellowbank.

In the following minutes, Tripp, Johnson and Lowry did all they could to revive Yellowbank until emergency responders arrived on-scene. Johnson and Lowry performed two-person CPR until an off-duty paramedic aided them, allowing Lowry to set up the Automated External Defibrillator, a device crucial to saving a person’s life said Johnson.

“Every minute that an AED is delayed, and you’re not using it, you’re reducing that victim’s chances of surviving by 10 percent, per minute. That’s an American Red Cross statistic,” said Johnson.

By the time emergency responders arrived, Yellowbank had been shocked with the AED twice with two minutes of CPR performed between shocks. Emergency responders shocked him once more before transferring Yellowbank into the ambulance.

At the time of his departure, Lowry said Yellowbank had a 5 percent chance of survival.

“If we hadn’t acted immediately, the situation could have been much, much different,” she said.

Before Yellowbank was life-flighted to Sanford USD Medical Center in Sioux Falls, Dean of Students Kimberly Grieve, Johnson and Lowry went to Sanford Vermillion Hospital to check on Yellowbank’s condition.

The Diagnosis

In Sioux Falls, Yellowbank said a number of tests were performed before they performed angioplasty. Angioplasty is a medical procedure in which a long, thin, flexible tube attached to a deflated balloon is inserted into an artery in order to locate and fix blockages. Through the procedure doctors were able to find the blockage, which had led to his massive heart attack; a heart attack so severe, it is often called the “widow maker.”

Several days passed before Johnson, Lowry or Tripp were notified of Yellowbank’s condition. Tripp said the waiting period was more nerve racking than the emergency response on the day Yellowbank collapsed.

“Once he left, I started thinking ‘Did we do everything right? Or could I have done something more,’ ” Tripp said. “That’s what’s really the hard part.”

Wellness Center Procedure

In a thank you letter to Wellness Center staff, Yellowbank wrote, “I know this happened at the gym for a reason that day. Had I been anywhere else the results could have, or more than likely would have been, completely different.”

Johnson, who has been American Red Cross CPR certified for 15 years, could not agree more.

“The fact that all three of us were there that day, we were lucky that we were here for him,” she said.  “There aren’t two more trained individuals in this building than Sam and I. And it was over lunch and neither of us had gone to lunch.”

The 100+ Wellness Center staff members are required to be CPR certified. Johnson credits the staff’s training for the success that day.

“It makes me feel good that we functioned great in the Wellness Center. I feel like we were able to provide him with the best care possible,” she said. “It makes it feel really rewarding.”

Lowry said Tripp set a good example for other students to follow and demonstrated the importance of CPR certification among the Wellness Center’s staff.

“It was good that Robert was out there, a lot of our students were like, ‘If that would have been me, I wouldn’t have know what to do,’ ” she said. “He was able to keep a level head as the very first person there and say ‘I need extra help, so go get Sam, go get Wendy’ and facilitate more care.”

Lasting Impact

Following Yellowbank’s release from the hospital, he and his family are making life-style changes and using the situation as a learning experience.

“My family is getting CPR certified, and all precaution for me having an incident at home is being taken care of,” he said. “The way we eat has changed… My family is all acting healthier.”

Since the incident, Yellowbank has met with his rescuers — meetings which have reinforced the importance of CPR certification for Johnson, Lowry and Tripp.

“I don’t feel like a hero or something, I don’t feel like I did something amazing,” Tripp said. “What I’m really impressed with was the people, everyone, the staff at the Wellness Center, Wendy, Samantha, everyone did what they were supposed to with the training that had taken place.”

Johnson also said the experience has been one that moves her close to tears just thinking about it.

“It’s super important for people to get CPR trained, because it could be your father-in-law one day at Christmas, it could be my sister at a holiday, it could be my best friend, it could be anybody here in the Wellness Center,” she said. “It doesn’t matter where you are. You’re ultimately making a difference in that person’s life — you could save a life.”