NORTH EAST, MD – Although Amy Smythe knows she chose a profession one never truly is off the clock from, a trip to Florida to run the Key West Half Marathon gave the Cecil College adjunct nursing instructor and Christiana Hospital cardiovascular nurse a chance to answer the call of duty in a way she had never previously done.
After completing the race, Smythe was cheering on her fellow runners when she noticed one of them, Bill Amirault, flat on his back. Undaunted by the fatigue of having just run 13.1 miles, she began to administer CPR on Amirault. Two other bystanders, who were also medical professionals, saw what was happening and joined Smythe in her lifesaving effort until the local emergency personnel arrived.
“I was so focused on doing the chest compressions and trying to help him that I was not even aware of the crowd gathered around us,” said Smythe. “Once the paramedics arrived, we stepped back and let them do their thing. They attached the defibrillator, shocked him, and immediately restarted CPR.”
Amirault was put into an ambulance, and Smythe did not know his status or if she would ever have any contact with him again. She and the other members of her 10-person travel party remained in Key West for a couple of days after the event, but they did not see anything about the incident in the local news reports.
“The more I thought about it, I decided it is probably best that I did not know how he was,” said Smythe. “As nurses, we always second guess ourselves. I went through each step in my mind to determine if we did everything we could have done for him. In the back of my mind, I was thinking that I would feel really horrible if it did not turn out well.”
Smythe returned to her Elkton, Maryland home assuming she would never hear anything further about the situation. However, five days after the race, she was alerted to a Facebook video – http://bit.ly/CecilKeyWestvideo – posted by Amirault from a hospital bed. He said, “I am hoping you can help me find the person or people that saved my life this past weekend. … There were at least one or two, maybe more, bystanders that were performing CPR on me, which ultimately saved my life. … I later found out that I had ventricular arrhythmia, which caused, ultimately, my heart to stop. So for a few minutes they were continuing to pump blood from my heart to my brain, which kept my brain alive. And then EMS was able to detect the arrhythmia, detect the heart failure, and ultimately the defibrillator kicked in. And I’m still here to talk about it.”
Amirault asked everyone to share his message, and it made its way to Smythe. She instantly commented on the video, which has been shared more than 30,000 times, and has spoken with him on the phone. The other two people who came to his aid were reached as well, and they have all been in touch with each other.
“When I saw him on Facebook, I immediately started crying,” said Smythe. “To think of how he looked when I last saw him compared to how he now looked was just unbelievable.”
Smythe, who has been a nurse for 15 years, had not previously performed CPR away from a medical facility. She said it is a very different experience outside of a hospital where she would have her peers around her, and the patient would most likely be hooked up to a heart monitor. Though it was an unfamiliar setting, she quickly adapted to the environment.
“It’s just kind of a medical profession instinct to jump into action and start doing something,” said Smythe. “With CPR, it’s critical to keep the blood circulating to all the vital organs because that is what is carrying the oxygen. As long you can continue the chest compressions, there is a good survival rate. I’m grateful we were able to do that for Bill.”
In addition to an experience she will never forget, she has quite a story to tell her Cecil College students. Smythe, who had not done any prior teaching, came to Cecil about a year ago and is enjoying the opportunity to oversee the clinical rotations at Christiana Hospital. Along with other duties, the students are conducting patient assessments, getting vital signs and giving medications.
“Teaching was a little overwhelming at first, because you are influencing people’s lives and want to make sure you are telling them the right information,” said Smythe. “Fortunately, I was able to make a smooth transition and feel very comfortable. It’s nice to teach people who want to be taught.”