Gift proves a lifesaver

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 29, 1999

One gift led to another earlier this month.

Wednesday, September 29, 1999

One gift led to another earlier this month. A gift of four automatic external defibrillators led to the gift of life.

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In early 1998, Stan and Skeeter Johnson donated the devices to the Albert Lea Police Department. The portable units record heart rhythms and deliver electric shock to heart attack victims, meaning officers who are first on the scene can begin efforts to save a person’s life.

Nearly two years after that donation, one of those devices helped save the Johnson’s former neighbor.

On Sept. 9, Gordon Sorenson felt what he thought was a bout of heartburn.

Taking an antacid, he went about his day, but began realizing he wasn’t feeling the typical heartburn.

&uot;Tums didn’t seem to help,&uot; he said.

So, he went home at about 3 p.m., changed his clothes and then woke up in a hospital bed.

Between changing clothes and waking up, Albert Lea police officers save his life.

Shortly after arriving at home, Sorenson passed out from a heart attack.

At 3:13 p.m., his wife, Marilyn, called 911 after finding her husband collapsed on the floor.

Within three minutes, Officer Bill Villarreal arrived at the Plainview Lane home.

&uot;When I got here, I caught his last breath,&uot; Villarreal recalls.

The officer began cardiopulmonary resuscitation until another officer came. When Officer Al Harris arrived a minute after Villarreal, he was carrying an AED that had been donated by the Johnsons.

Two pads were attached to Sorenson’s chest and the machine began reading his heart rhythm. Within six minutes, three electrical shocks are directed through Sorenson’s body and his pulse returned.

Albert Lea Medical Center Paramedic Brad Niebuhr said Sorenson is alive today because of the donated device, well equipped officers, quality dispatchers and the local ambulance crew.

&uot;That happened almost seamlessly,&uot; he said.

The paramedic said that is evidence of well-trained people.

&uot;It’s not something they use a lot,&uot; he said of the AEDs. &uot;So, when they use it, it should be a no-brainer.&uot;

To achieve that skill, Niebuhr said officers train with the devices every three months.

He said evidence that that training pays off is seen in Officer Harris’s reaction on the scene.

Sorenson is a family friend. That fact, said Niebuhr, could have caused the officer to pause, but instead training allowed him to proceed quickly – something that likely saved Sorenson’s life.

&uot;Much longer – minutes – and we wouldn’t have had the success we do now,&uot; he said.

Sorenson was out of the hospital within a week and is now feeling well with medications and regular monitoring of his condition.

Yesterday, nearly three weeks later, Sorenson had the chance to meet with the first two officers to reach his side.

&uot;How do you say ‘thank you?’&uot; he asked Villareal and Harris.

&uot;You just did,&uot; Villarreal quickly replied, followed by silence between the three.

In the end, Niebuhr said a lot of factors played in the success of the rescue.

Marilyn Sorenson’s quick action in calling the police; the dispatcher’s recognition of the call’s urgency and the officers and EMT’s quick response. All that, along with AEDs saved a man’s life.

Niebuhr said typical Americans have a 3 percent to 5 percent chance of surviving a heart attack. Those statistics are raised to 40 percent to 50 percent in a community with AEDs and trained paramedics.