Patriot Files: 30 compressions

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jarad A. Denton
  • 501st Combat Support Wing Public Affairs
The arrhythmic medley from thousands of shoes striking asphalt echoed through the streets of Cambridge, United Kingdom, Feb. 28.

One, two, three...

A multitude of people lined the winding route which comprised the 13.1 miles of the 2016 Saucony Cambridge Half Marathon. Their cheers seemed to spur the runners through aching muscles, burning lungs and the cold, winter air.

Leaning against a barricade near the finish line, Brittany, a key spouse from the 501st Combat Support Wing scanned the street for her husband.

"It was exciting," she said, with a smile. "I was just so proud of him. This was his first half marathon, so I was a little worried for my husband. You just never know what could happen when you run for 13 miles."

Four, five, six...

Meeting her friends at the train station bound for Cambridge, early that morning, Brittany said she felt as though they were going on an adventure.

"It was cold, but it was beautiful. The sun was shining and it was just a very lively environment," she said. "Everybody was there to support somebody they loved."

She watched and waited, when suddenly her friend, Rosela, gasped. Lying in a slowly-expanding pool of blood was a runner who had collapsed.

"I saw two people go over there - for some reason I thought they were part of the medic team," Brittany said. "I just watched from afar for a few moments, until I noticed what they were doing wasn't how I was trained."

In that instant, time seemed to slow to a crawl as Brittany's first-aid and CPR training took over. Reacting, without thinking, she pushed past the barricade and rushed to the unconscious stranger.

Seven, eight, nine...

"I knew I had to do something," she said. "When I ran over I saw he... He had a lot of blood on him. His eyes were open, but in my mind I felt like there wasn't any life left in those eyes."

Despite maintaining her life-saving certification for the past six years, Brittany said she was still shocked by the runner's appearance.

"I just kept looking at him," she said, emotionally. "He just wasn't responsive - there wasn't a lot of color [in his skin]. He looked to be in his forties, very fit and prepared [for the race]."

Brittany paused, searching for the right words.

"He was a guy," she said. "It was someone's son, maybe someone's dad - somebody just like anybody. It didn't really register in the moment, but subconsciously I knew he needed help."

Although other people were trying to help, Brittany noticed the aid they were providing was not having any effect. Without a moment's hesitation, she stepped up, informed the crowd she was trained to handle this and stepped in to try to save the life of a man she didn't know.

Ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen...

"I just did what I would want someone to do for me," Brittany said, recalling the moment she started chest compressions on the runner. "I was scared. I used to work as a preschool teacher, so there have been a few times where I had to do the Heimlich Maneuver on a child - but this was really a life or death case and something I have never experienced."

Brittany said the shock from the experience is still with her, and she can still see the man's face and remember the blood on her hands.

Fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen...

Rhythmically, she continued chest compressions, mentally noting blood down his face from a gash on his forehead. Brittany said, although the man appeared lifeless, she felt he knew there were people trying to save him.

"Although he wasn't conscious, I felt like we made eye contact," she said. "It felt as though he was letting me know he wanted to keep fighting."

Eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty-one...

The will to fight was not a foreign concept to Brittany. As a natural caregiver, she said the decision to help the runner was not one she consciously made.

"As soon as I looked over and saw something that did not look right, I knew I was going to play some kind of part," she said. "Whether it was calling 999, giving him my jacket to keep him warm or going over there and giving chest compressions - like I did, it was never a choice for me to not do something."

Looking back, Brittany said she was incredibly thankful for her CPR training, which she renews every two years.

"I would encourage everybody to get certified," she said. "It's only a couple hours out of your day, but it can mean the difference between life and death."

Twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five...

Brittany said her training allowed her to correctly assess the situation, step in and properly administer CPR - which bought the man the precious moments he needed to start breathing again, before paramedics arrived.

"There were so many people around helping out - it wasn't just me. We were all a team," she said. "But, even with everyone there, it seemed to take forever for the medics to arrive, even though their response time was really quick."

Twenty-six, twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine...

Stepping back, Brittany watched the paramedics take over to help the man - as the overwhelming reality of the situation began to sink in.

"The situation, seeing the look on his face, is something that will never leave my mind," she said. "That's very troubling. I don't want that image in my brain."

As the ambulance sped away, Brittany, now standing with her husband - who had finished the half marathon, found herself dealing with many unanswered questions.

"I don't know who he is," she said, sadly. "I don't know his name. I don't know his story. It's weird - I don't know this man at all, but I feel like I have some kind of connection to him. I want to know how he is. I want to know that he is ok."


Editor's Note: At the time of this publication, the runner was listed in critical condition at Addenbrook's Hospital, Cambridge, United Kingdom. For security and privacy considerations the full names of those involved in the incident have been withheld.

Update [March 3, 2016]: According to news reports, the runner is no longer in intensive care and is making good progress toward recovery at Addenbrook's Hospital.