Communications officer comes to the rescue
Brianna Ritter, communications officer one for Butler County Emergency Communications, was given a Spotlight Award at the county commission meeting on Tuesday, April 18.
Ritter responded to a 911 call on March 14 from Butler County resident Charlene Smith regarding Smith's boyfriend, Bob Hale. Smith said Hale became unresponsive while they were watching movies together that night.
"I was laying my head on his shoulder, and when I looked back, he was making this sound. But there was no response, and his eyes were glossed over. So at first I thought, 'Well, maybe this is sleep apnea.' You know? And I shook him, and immediately there was no response. And I don't know CPR – I don't know anything about checking pulses or anything like that. I just knew that he wasn't responding or breathing the way he should be; he was making this sound. I didn't know what was wrong. So, of course, I called 911 immediately," Smith said.
Ritter answered the call.
"I was hysterical, I was crying, I was freaked out .... She repeatedly reminds me to calm down, and I go back. She said I need to get him off the couch, so I pulled him down to the floor. And she explained what I needed to do with my hands and where, and she told me what to do. And then, she said I had to keep doing it until the ambulance comes – and, you know, they live like 20 minutes out there. So I was like, 'Oh my gosh.' And she was like, 'You can't stop.' And, by the way, I am frantic. You know, she is 100 percent calming me down [and] telling me what to do. Of course, I didn't understand some of it because I was so panicked," Smith said.
Smith put Ritter on speaker phone on the couch, and Ritter continued to guide Smith through the CPR chest compressions and counted with her.
"And then, I did break his ribs. And I was like – I heard cracking, and it was just very, very traumatic. But she walked me through it. And I was, of course, very traumatized at this point, and I was sobbing and everything," Smith said.
Smith suspected a heart attack. When Emergency Medical Services arrived, they monitored Hale's heart, and there weren't any signs of a heart attack.
"They said we should get him to the hospital because, if I broke his ribs, it could puncture his lung. So, I was like, 'Okay, we need to hurry,'" Smith said.
Hale's two daughters and the oldest daughter's boyfriend arrived at the home before they left for the hospital.
"My boyfriend is very, very stubborn, and he wouldn't go with the ambulance. So I said, 'Okay, we'll get you there.' .... So then, I run in there, and I get his shoes on. I'm like, 'We have to go.' At this point, he doesn't also want to leave because he has a severe headache, and his chest, of course – the pain is unbearable. And we have a trash can because he felt like he was going to throw up. But his head was terrible .... As we walk out the steps, he said, 'Something's not right,' and he collapsed again. We basically lost him twice," Smith said.
They called 911 again, and the oldest daughter's boyfriend worked with Rebecca Coon, communications officer one, over the phone to try to revive Hale. They couldn't do CPR at this point because Hale was breathing.
"Truthfully, I was extremely frantic at this point, but I know that he was doing stuff to press on his sternum and lift his chin. Because he was white, and he was gone. I mean, he was down to, I guess, like four beats or less. And then he would start breathing again, and I'd be all crazy yelling like, 'Oh my god, we got to hurry. Do that thing again,'" Smith said.
Coon helped guide the daughter's boyfriend through the necessary action steps while they waited for the ambulance.
"We did get him responsive again. We had the girls go inside; we didn't want them to see. We were outside on the ground. It was, like, 20 degrees. And it was just so traumatic, but through that whole time, she continued to assist. And the ambulance came, and we got him in there, and I went ahead to El Dorado hospital. At that point, we still didn't know what was happening. I thought it was a heart attack, probably. But we got to the hospital, and they said he had a brain bleed. An aneurysm is what he was having. And they were sending him to Wichita, and they didn't think he was going to make it to Wichita. And then, we got to Wichita, and the next few days – every step, we didn't think he was going to make it. Through it all, no surgeons would touch where it was located and all this. But miracles kept happening every step of the way. And once we finally could breathe, we spent 20 nights in the hospital," Smith said.
Smith doesn't take the credit for saving Hale's life.
"People would tell the story, and they would tell somebody, 'Charlene's a hero.' And I said, 'I'm not the hero; I didn't know what to do. He would've died.' .... I said, 'It was the 911 operator because, literally, I didn't know what to do, and she walked me through every step.' And, like I said, I was frantic – I was crazed. And not only did she help, but she knew how to calm me down enough to save his life. Because he would've died," Smith said.
Hale got out of the hospital about a week ago after surgery. He has some bad headaches and may possibly have some vision problems, but he is expected to recover. Smith is thankful for Ritter and her help.
"If it wasn't for her and the training she received and the way she could handle things, his daughters and I – our lives would totally be different right now. So, he and I both, we've talked about our angel. We talk about her often – about how much we love her. And she's going to be my best friend forever, too, now .... And I just wanted to thank her," Smith said.
Smith met her angel in-person for the first time at the meeting on Tuesday.
"Thank you. I know I wasn't easy. You saved his life," Smith told Ritter after a hug.
"You did the heavy lifting," Ritter replied.
Ritter was then presented with her Spotlight Award by the Butler County Board of Commissioners. She was also given gifts from Smith – a cross to hang on the wall and scriptures, both of which were encouragements to Smith and Hale while he was in the hospital. Smith said she is now taking a CPR class and tells everybody about how 911 operators helped save Hale's life.
Emergency Communications Director Chris Davis said he was going to have Ritter take Smith down to the 911 center for a personalized tour.