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Wis. cops in right place, time to save student

Teamwork of two officers who don’t usually work together was critical to student’s rescue

By Jennifer Zahn
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

MILWAUKEE — When Ryan Child’s heart stopped, his legs buckled beneath him and he hit the sidewalk face first.

To his friend David Winger, walking with Child across the campus of University of Wisconsin-Stout on Sept. 13, it did not look good for Child, 18, a freshman from Lake Geneva. But the two had luck on their side: Two campus police officers were walking out of a building some 200 feet away.

On Friday, at the UWBoard of Regents meeting, those officers, Jason Spetz and Lisa Pederson, received a prolonged standing ovation for saving Child’s life.

“Chancellor (Charles) Sorensen and everybody at Stout feel like they’re off to a special start to their new academic year because of this story with a desperate start and a happy ending,” said Kevin Reilly, UW System president.

The chest flutters Child began experiencing sporadically during the summer did not tip off his doctor at home that he might go into sudden cardiac arrest, which happened just eight days after starting his freshman classes at UWStout.

When his heart gave out, it became a race against time. The next 10 minutes would decide Child’s survival: Few attempts at resuscitation of cardiac arrest victims succeed after 10 minutes, according to the American Heart Association. Swift and decisive action was necessary, but luck was even more vital.

The pieces began falling into place as Winger immediately dialed 911 and looked around for assistance. That’s when he noticed Spetz and Pederson across campus and flagged them down with the help of an unidentified bystander who ran to the officers.

Spetz radioed for an ambulance as he and Pederson sprinted toward Child.

It was unusual for Spetz and Pederson to be together while on duty, but that night they had carpooled to a meeting. Their teamwork was crucial to rescuing Child as Spetz kept his airway open while Pederson did chest compressions, according to a release from UW-Stout.

Within two minutes, the ambulance arrived and paramedics shocked Child with a defibrillator, the release said.

“From the time I collapsed, I was already shocked twice and on my way to the hospital within10 minutes,” Child said in a phone interview Friday. “First one didn’t take. The second one, thank God, took.”

After he lay on the sidewalk without a pulse for five minutes, Child’s heart began to beat.

Nearly 60% of all sudden cardiac arrests are witnessed by another person, but even attacks that occur within a five-to seven-minute range of defibrillation have survival rates between only 30% and 45%, according to data from the Cardiac Science Corp.

The ambulance drove Child from campus to the Mayo Clinic Health System in Menomonie, where he was loaded into a helicopter and flown to the branch in Eau Claire.

When Child first regained consciousness, it was only for a few moments.

“It was like in the movies,” he said, “when you watch someone in a hospital and all the people are running and screaming alongside the stretcher and all you can see are the light panels in the ceiling.” There, Child received the diagnosis missed by the cardiologist he saw during the summer: hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition that thickens the heart muscle and makes it more difficult to pump blood from its chambers. Child said the upper chamber of his heart is double the size of an average person’s.

Child’s condition is the most common cause of heartrelated sudden death in people under 30, and is often asymptomatic before its onset, according to the Mayo Clinic website.

Child collapsed at about 8:40 p.m. but has no memory of it. He also cannot recall the two hours before his collapse, after he left the Stout University Foundation Scholarship Award ceremony, where he received $3,750 in three scholarships from the Wisconsin Restaurant Association.

“I don’t remember anything,” Child said. “I don’t remember walking out of the scholarship ceremony. I was in a picture that was taken at 6:45, and I don’t remember anything from 6:45 to 8:30.”

Four days later, Child went into surgery to have a pacemaker installed. If his heart ever slows down again, the built-in defibrillator is designed to automatically shock his heart back into rhythm.

“The only thing I will feel is if it shocks me,” Child said. “They say it feels like a horse kicks you in the chest.” Child is taking the rest of the semester off to recover at home. He will resume his studies at Gateway Technical College in the spring and return to UWStout next fall.

Although he said he wishes he could have made the trip to UW-Stout for homecoming Saturday, he said he knows how lucky he is.
“It’s one in a million,” said Child of his survival. “People don’t usually survive this.”

Neither campus officer could be reached for comment, but Pederson summed up the rescue in the release from UW-Stout: “The stars aligned just perfectly that day.”

Copyright 2012 Journal Sentinel Inc.