Thrive by IU Health

February 13, 2024

Woman reconnects with lifesavers after cardiac arrest

IU Health Saxony Hospital

Woman reconnects with lifesavers after cardiac arrest

By Emma Avila,, writer for IU Health’s Indianapolis Suburban Region

After surviving cardiac arrest, Rhonda Compton expresses heartfelt gratitude as she reconnects with the lifesaving teams at IU Health Saxony and the Fishers Fire Department, highlighting the importance of teamwork and early CPR in her recovery.

Moments before she walked in the Emergency department at IU Health Saxony, Rhonda Compton’s stomach was in knots. The last time she had been there, she was unconscious. This would be the first time she would meet the team that saved her life.

A terrifying experience

Just a few days earlier, Rhonda and her husband, Doug, were eating lunch at a restaurant in Fishers when she went into cardiac arrest.

“She made a deep cough and her head fell over,” Doug says. “Me and one of the customers got her to the floor. I started giving her mouth to mouth and one of the employees was doing compressions.”

Another person inside the restaurant called 911. Fishers Fire Department emergency medical services (EMS) arrived within minutes.

“Next thing I saw was a boot right beside me and he said, ‘I’m taking over,’” Doug recalls.

The EMS crew transported an unconscious Rhonda to IU Health Saxony.

Doug as well as Rhonda’s two sons, ages 37 and 39, waited for her in the hospital’s Emergency department. When they were able to see her, she still wasn’t awake.

She eventually woke up the next day in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). She was confused and had a tube down her throat to help her breathe, which made it hard to communicate.

“She tried to mouth questions and things, but she couldn’t talk,” Doug says.

“I’m still trying to process it all,” Rhonda adds. “I don’t know what happened.”

Tests showed Rhonda needed a pacemaker, which was put in during her time at the hospital. She also sustained cracked ribs from chest compressions during CPR.

After a couple of days in the ICU, Rhonda was moved to the Medical-Surgical unit to begin her road to recovery. Clinical team members helped ease her pain and provided directions on best practices as she recovered from surgery and the cracked ribs.

During her stay, Rhonda and Doug made connections with several hospital team members.

“The team is just wonderful. Everyone who has taken care of us is just wonderful,” Doug says with tears in his eyes.

For Rhonda, she remembers some of the people who took care of her, but she has no memory of what happened before she woke up in the ICU.

“I don’t know if I’m trying to block it out,” she says. “I’m sure one day it will come to me.”

Returning with gratitude

Because she didn’t remember many of the people who cared for her, Rhonda returned to IU Health Saxony a week after she was discharged to meet the Emergency department team.

The Fishers Fire Department EMS crew that responded to help Rhonda when she went into cardiac arrest met her at the hospital as well.

As both teams gathered around her and Doug, Rhonda became very emotional. Through tears, she told them, “Thank you all so much. I wouldn’t be here without you.’”

Rhonda and Doug thanking emergency department team

While it was a big moment for the Comptons, it was impactful for the teams as well.

“It was so special for our team members and the first responders to reconnect with the patient and her family,” says Natalie Zipper, manager of clinical operations for the hospital’s Emergency department. “The teams work very hard in situations such as these to stabilize the patient so they can get to the best place to continue their care. We pour our hearts and souls into the situation and rarely know what happens to the patient after they leave our care. The visit from the family closed that loop for us. Seeing the gratitude the family had for our teams for giving them their loved one back filled our hearts and helped us to remember why we do what we do.”

Rhonda Compton with EMS and team members in IU Health Saxony's Emergency department
Rhonda Compton with EMS and team members in IU Health Saxony's Emergency department

After visiting the Emergency department, Rhonda and Doug went upstairs to the ICU. Though Rhonda remembers many of the ICU team members, she wanted to thank them properly.

After she expressed her gratitude, the team thanked her for returning so they could know she was healing well.

“Your story gives us purpose and hope for everyone who comes through these doors,” Tyler Corradi, general medicine service line director at IU Health Saxony, tells Rhonda.

“You’re an inspiration,” adds Jana Upton, a registered nurse in the ICU.

Rhonda Compton and ICU team members
Rhonda Compton and ICU team members

It takes teamwork

Multiple people, teams and departments helped save Rhonda’s life, as is the case for so many patients.

“The combination of early, effective CPR, calling 911, the emergency response with critical care and the definitive hospital treatment upon arrival at IU Health Saxony hospital is the systemic success of saving lives,” says Captain Steve Delwey, EMS Captain for the Fishers Department of Fire and Emergency Services. “We were honored to be a part of it.”

“With collaboration with our pre-hospital partners and assistance of education and awareness, we are able to have successful stories like this,” adds Kurtiss McKissick, emergency medical technician (EMT) and EMS liaison for IU Health’s Indianapolis Suburban Region. 

While EMS and hospital team members were a vital part of Rhonda’s story, Doug and the employee performing CPR was equally important.

“If someone suffers cardiac arrest at home, at work or anywhere outside of a hospital, there are two critically important steps,” says Dr. Nathan Lambert, cardiologist at IU Health Saxony. “One is to immediately summon EMS by calling 911. Once they arrive, they will take over care. The other critically important step is to pump on the patient’s chest by doing ‘hands only’ CPR, also called ‘compression only’ CPR, until EMS arrives. Doing CPR until EMS arrives triples the chance of survival and should be initiated immediately after calling 911.”

“Without early CPR, the patient survival rate drops every minute,” McKissick adds.

The road to recovery

Thankfully, Rhonda’s journey has a happy ending. She is recovering at home with Doug and their dog, Bella.

While she hopes to put this terrifying experience behind her, she will never forget the people who helped her along the way.

“Just thank you,” she says. “Thank you, thank you.”



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