A Debt of Gratitude

May 5, 2020

Mike Engle doesn’t remember dying. He was volunteering at the Food Bank in Battle Mountain, NV, helping out during a food drive, when everything went black. The next thing he remembers clearly is waking up in a Reno hospital room hours later. 

What happened in the intervening time—Engle’s lost time—is the story of a community working together to help save one of their own who had suffered a massive heart attack. A story of rapid and resolute action, application of skill and deployment of emergency healthcare resources that literally brought him back to life.

Other volunteers heard him fall, a sickening thud onto the hard surface of the Food Bank floor among the boxes of charitable donations. Several called 911. A Red Cross-certified volunteer, Chelsea Fox, happened to be nearby. Trained in CPR, she rushed to Engle’s side, checked his breathing, eyes and pulse…but there was no response. He was turning purple. 

Quickly, Fox administered breaths to try to force air-to-air into his oxygen-starved lungs. It took several tries before his body began to accept the life-giving air. But Engle couldn’t sustain breathing on his own. His heart had stopped. 

Now, Fox began chest compressions, rhythmically pressing her palm down and back up, rocking to the cadence she had learned from the Red Cross. Engle would later learn that, at this point, he was clinically dead. Only Fox’s CPR was buying him time until medical professionals could arrive.

Battle Mountain is a small town with limited medical resources or access to critical care. When 911 was initiated in response to Engle’s emergency, not only the County ambulance company was notified but REACH Air Medical responded as well. Engle’s best chance was to be air lifted to a Reno hospital rather than take the curving, mountainous three-hour drive from northern Nevada to the facility he desperately needed. 

Lander County EMTs arrived six minutes after getting the call. They took over for an exhausted Fox, ripped open Engle’s shirt and applied an Automated External Defibrillator (AED). They were able to restart his heart, but he was not out of the woods yet. 

Simultaneously, REACH Pilot Shad Hutnyak, Flight Medic Katie Harper and Flight Nurse Warren Archer were in route from REACH’s Elko, NV, base minutes west of Battle Mountain by helicopter. Upon arrival, The REACH medical crew further stabilized Engle and got him aboard the aircraft. Time was of the essence.

In Reno, Engle was rushed into surgery. He remembers vaguely the operating room. It reminded him of the dark room at his high school—cool and dim, with a faint smell of chemicals. Then all was black again until he woke up in his room. Doctors had put in two stents in the successful surgery. 

Engle knows he was lucky that day. There was a bystander trained in CPR. There was a local emergency transport unit minutes away. And there was access to critical care thanks to air medical. He has a lot to be thankful for.
 

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