Stars Lined Up
October 22, 2019
EMD Ashley Yockey was the first in the chain of survival coincidences that ultimately saved the life of a grandmother in town visiting the grandkids.
Or you can call them miracles.
Diana Nickel was putting away the leftover birthday cake and ice cream on Nov. 8, 2018, while her husband, Paul, was shuffling their grandchildren Molly and Kate off to bed with a promise of a good night story. It’s then that Paul heard a loud crash coming from the kitchen. He rushed into the room. Diana was face up on the floor. Her eyes were glassy, and she did not answer when he called her name.
Paul called 911, and Yockey picked up at the Johnson County Emergency Management and Communications Center, Olathe, Kansas (USA). Paul explained what happened. Yockey was providing CPR instructions to Paul when their six-year-old granddaughter, Molly, peeked in to see—as she later described—her grandmother on the floor, and her grandfather pounding on her chest.
Paul had his older grandchild, Kate, follow the PDIs Yockey told him over the phone. Kate unlocked and opened the front door.
Paul listened to Yockey on speakerphone and, together, they counted compressions, 1-2-3-4, in time to the ProQA® compression counter.
Dr. Ryan Jacobsen, Johnson County EMS Medical Director, arrived first. The portable alarm system he generally turns off at home had been left on, and the alarm alerted him to the medical emergency. He jumped in his EMS-equipped vehicle, drove the few blocks through a storm, and chose the house based on the slit of light coming through the front door from the kitchen.
Dr. Jacobsen had brought along a portable AED. He told Paul to go into the next room. He didn’t want Paul to watch while he administered the shocks.
Police and paramedics were next to arrive, finding the home by the light tunneling through the evening darkness and blizzard. Paramedics placed Diana on a gurney and hooked her up to an automated CPR machine. Forty minutes of CPR and seven shocks with the AED and nothing. Diana remained unresponsive. A firefighter came for Paul. He kissed his wife goodbye.
“We didn’t know if she was going to survive,” he said.
Dr. Jacobsen decided on a final attempt—double sequential defibrillation. He placed an AED on her chest, and he positioned a second AED on her back. He called it the “Last Hail Mary.” If this didn’t start her heart, nothing would.
Diana rallied. She walked out of the hospital in four days and spent the next nine days at a cardiac rehabilitation center. She is among the 1% to come through without neurological damage after having experienced sudden cardiac arrest with prolonged attempted resuscitation.
The Nickels made it a point to thank Yockey and Dr. Jacobsen at the communication center, bringing flowers and cookies decorated with the numbers 1-2-3-4 in honor of the compressions count for CPR.
Yockey, an emergency dispatcher going on her fourth year, said the meeting was emotional for all of them and, at the same time, reassuring.
“This is why we do what we do,” she said. “We help people on what very well could be their worst day ever.”
There are parts of the story that Diana and Paul can laugh about, such as Molly telling those who asked about the evening: “Papa murdered Nana, and the police came to investigate.” Diana repeatedly said, “He’s the man” while in the hospital, in and out of consciousness when asked about Paul’s assistance.
Diana praises the coordinated efforts of response and looks to her spiritual beliefs. “It’s a very good feeling to be part of a miracle,” she said.
The Nickels are now giving back, as they said. They push for AEDs in schools, churches, and public buildings. They donated several AEDs to Paul’s alma mater—University of Arkansas, Fayetteville (Arkansas, USA).
“We don’t know why Diana was given a second chance,” Paul said. “But we have a story to tell. We are on a mission to help save others.”