Generally, medical professionals don’t treat their own family members as patients, primarily because their emotions could undermine their objectivity in administering care. However, EMS personnel don’t always have the luxury of that choice. In some cases, they are the only ones available who can help.
Amy Hanson knows that truth all too well.
In November 2022, the flight nurse with Guardian Flight Wyoming in Riverton got a call about a 60-year-old man in the small, rural town of Dubois, possibly suffering from a heart attack. The Riverton base is the closest EMS facility to Dubois, so the call was sent to Hanson’s air medical base. However, after accepting it, Hanson would soon learn the call would become personal.
“After we agreed to fly out, I got a call from my brother, telling me he thinks my father is having a heart attack in Dubois, the same town as the patient,” recalled Hanson. “As soon as I heard that, I just knew [the patient we were responding to] was my dad. My soul just knew this was going to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my medical career. I remember running out, yelling, ‘I think it’s my dad,’ to my partner.”
Hanson’s partner, Lauri Wempen, flight paramedic base manager and GMR 2022 Stars of Life recipient, would then inform Hanson that two ambulances were responding to a patient with chest pain, and that one of them is currently administering CPR to the patient.
“Again, my stomach hit the floor,” said Hanson. “I had a gut feeling the patient receiving CPR was my dad.”
Hanson’s intuition would prove correct.
After liftoff, the flight crew got a call from the dispatch center informing them that one of the ground crews had already picked up the patient, started CPR on the individual and was “rendezvousing” (medically collaborating) with another ambulance crew with Advanced Cardiac Life Support Ambulance (ACLS) capabilities, at a nearby rest stop between Dubois and Riverton.
The ambulances requested that the air crew meet them at that halfway point at Diversion Dam. The flight crew agreed and, once their aircraft landed, Hanson and Wempen would find the ACLS team performing CPR on Hanson’s father, Randy Woodward, who had gone into cardiac arrest while being transported by the initial responding ground crew. At this point, it wouldn’t be safe to take a patient via air during active CPR, so Hanson and Wempen joined the ACLS crew to help treat Woodward as he was being driven to the hospital in Riverton.
After arriving at the hospital, the emergency room team worked tirelessly to resuscitate Woodward. A doctor even talked with Hanson about whether she wanted to continue these efforts, which seemed to be having no effect at the time.
“I knew I couldn’t make any decisions on my own, so I went to find my siblings,” said Hanson. “And then, just as my family walked into the trauma bay, the hospital team was able to get a pulse back on my father.”
Woodward had 75 minutes of CPR before getting his heartbeat back. He would soon be stabilized and then transported by another Guardian Flight team to a hospital in Casper, where he would make a full recovery with no neurological issues.
“It was a miracle,” said Hanson, who credits her father’s recovery to the remarkable synergy among the air, ground and hospital crews.
“If it wasn’t for the early recognition by the first ground crew and then, the high-quality CPR administered by the second, ACLS crew, and, of course, my partner, Lauri and the team at the hospital, I honestly believe the outcome would not have been as favorable as it was,” said Hanson.
“I’m still trying to process everything; I really don’t remember that much,” he said. “I’m grateful to everyone who helped me, because from what I’ve been told, only two in 100 people who suffer the kind of medical crisis I did survives.”
Woodward says he’s particularly proud of his daughter, who he believes is the main reason he’s alive. Today, he says he’s learning to take “one day at a time” and that all of his children keep track of him at all times, so everyone knows where he is.
As for Hanson, she’s grateful the ordeal is over, but adds that, as difficult as it was, it brought her loved ones closer.
“My mother and father are divorced, but my mother still came down from Cheyenne to support us. My sister flew in from Iowa. There was this time when we all just sat and cried, laughed and reminisced about my dad,” she said. “We pulled together as a family and hung on for dear life.
Hanson also says the experience is one she’ll never forget.
“I know how to handle emergencies. I do this for a living, but when the patient you’re responding to is one of your own, there’s an added pressure, for obvious reasons,” she said. “I still remember when I knew my dad was going to make it. I called the hospital at 4 a.m. — 12 hours after he had been admitted — to check on him, and that’s when the nurse replied, ‘I actually have good news for you. He has opened his eyes and is tracking movement.’ I remember placing the phone on mute and crying. Yes, this was very good news.”