Thrive by IU Health

November 11, 2021

Medical assistant was in the right place at the right time

Medical assistant was in the right place at the right time

Jonelle Barlow could have been at any number of IU Health hospitals or any number of units, but on a recent day, she was right where she needed to be to save a life.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

Her heart was racing. She felt her body shaking. But she did what came instinctively. Jonelle Barlow responded to a cry for help.

As a “floating” certified medical assistant, Barlow spends her week bouncing between the COVID infusion unit, cardiovascular, and advanced care at IU Health Methodist Hospital, and even working in endocrinology at IU Health Methodist Plaza. It was during a recent lunch break from COVID infusion when she heard the cries for help outside the hospital cafeteria.

As she approached the area, she saw a man on the floor, his two adult children and a church pastor around him. Barlow did what she had been taught to do – she asked questions about his condition, checked his breathing, and began CPR. As she methodically began the chest compressions, the patient’s pastor administered breaths.

“During this incident several individuals rapidly responded, formed a team, and delivered high quality CPR with confidence in a well-orchestrated manner. Relying on their knowledge, training and communication skills they saved a life and exemplified the IU Health values of Excellence and Team through their actions,” said Greg Strine, Director of Clinical Education.

As Barlow continued with compressions, other health care providers offered assistance, all the while encouraging her to continue CPR.

“I’ve worked at IU Health just shy of 15 years and this was a first,” said Barlow. “It’s what we are trained for.” Within minutes, the man began breathing on his own and was transported to the emergency department. He had come to the hospital for treatment for a cardiovascular diagnosis, Barlow said.

“It all happened so fast. I was counting out loud, I was jittery, but I knew what had to be done,” said Barlow. A lifetime Indianapolis resident, Barlow graduated from Emmerich Manual High School. She began her career working in hospitality and eventually became a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA).

“My auntie who raised me always said I had a heart to serve people,” said Barlow. “I like being in the floating pool because I meet so many different people and I’m always learning new things.” And on this day, she was in the right place at the right time.

Medical assistants and other patient caregivers are certified in CPR and receive refresher courses four times annually. “The training is offered in so many different places that it’s convenient to stay up-to-date. I completed my recent refresher course at 2 a.m. when I was working in the Methodist stroke unit,” said Barlow.

It was after becoming a CNA that she went on to further her training as a medical assistant. “I decided if I could make a difference then I want to do it,” said Barlow. “I want to treat others the way I would want my grandmother treated.”

Barlow’s compassion for others has made an impact on her two sons – Isaiah, 11; and Michael, 16. Her oldest son is one of the first high school scholars in a pilot program focusing on careers in health care. Last year, IU Health and Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) launched a fellowship program introducing students at Crispus Attucks High School to careers in health care. Students who complete the program will receive tuition assistance to complete a related degree along with a job at IU Health.

“Michael has met several doctors and others in the medical field when he’s been with me in the hospital over the years. He wants to study bio-medical engineering and can’t wait to start an externship in the hospital,” said Barlow. He too, was trained at IU Health in CPR during a “Safe Sitter” workshop.

“When I went home and told the boys what happened, I told them how nervous I was but how good it felt. One of the other staff members helping said, ‘Relax. You just saved a man’s life,’” said Barlow. “It didn’t sink in right away but this is the epitome of what we’re about.”