Heather Darata

Heather Darata

Story Vault

By Heather Darata

When Karen Clark received the Rescue Professional award from the American Red Cross Santa Cruz County Chapter, she said she really did it for the profession.

The Santa Cruz (Calif.) Consolidated Communications Center dispatcher II doesn’t take credit for the good outcome on a call she handled on July 27, 2011, falling back on her training and the actions of the caller on scene.

“I have to give so much credit to this citizen,” Clark said. “I think she deserves a lion’s share of the credit. She was everything you want in a caller. She was the hero in the situation.”

The caller was attending a conference in Mount Hermon when she passed a three-year-old girl who was unconscious and not breathing. Seeing the mother was too distraught to take action, the caller did.

“She said the girl had a marble stuck in her mouth and was turning blue,” Clark said. “She was very calm when she called and I didn’t realize that the child hadn’t been breathing for three minutes.”

After initiating dispatch during Case Entry, Clark continued to gather information from the caller and then instructed her on how to perform the head tilt and start mouth-to-mouth, according to CPR Pre-Arrival Instructions (PAIs). The situation took a turn for the better partway through the call—before they reached chest compression instructions.

“I guess the child must have swallowed the marble,” Clark said. “I was surprised when the woman told me the girl was breathing. I was very happy.”

A completely different scene than described by the caller awaited response, which arrived eight minutes after initial dispatch.

“She said she’s fine,” Clark said. “She’s sitting up. She’s talking. It was just a wonderful miracle. It was a great feeling to know that the training I received worked. Often we don’t get the happy ending. It was a wonderful outcome.”

Administrative Supervisor Marsha MillerAyers nominated Clark for the award after finding out about the successful outcome.

“One of the fire captains called later and said the instructions we gave were perfect,” MillerAyers said. “We definitely saved her life. It was one of those high-priority, low-frequency events. The fact that we were successful with it, we were really pleased.”

Even when calls don’t turn out as well as this one did, Clark enjoys the job; it was a change she made 13 years ago after spending 21 years as a newspaper reporter.

“I like the fast-paced nature of it,” she said. “There’s something new every day. We do make a difference more often than we realize.”