Local paramedics help save teen's life

Priority Ambulance representatives were recently honored with the Star of Life award during a Children’s Emergency Care Alliance of Tennessee ceremony in Nashville. Pictured, from left, are Priority Ambulance representatives Edwin Paul Suarez, Duncan Bennett, James Jenkins and Travis Estes, family friends Charlie and June Corum, Morgan Newman and family friends Jeff Hundley and Randy Highland.

Morgan Newman doesn’t remember much about June 29, 2018, when she jumped into the pool for a church party, but she knows the events that followed helped save her life.

“I remember turning to my friend, telling him to get into the pool because we were going to do a race and I remember feeling light-headed and going underneath the water to try to wake myself up a little bit,” Morgan, who was 16 at the time, said. “Then I remember the next thing them pulling the ventilator out of me.”

Morgan sank to the bottom of the pool.

Family friends Jeff Hundley, Randy Highland and June and Charlie Corum were able to get her out of the water and begin CPR before Priority Ambulance paramedics arrived.

“Morgan was born with a congenital heart defect called an AV canal,” Mandy Newman, Morgan’s mother, said. “Basically she was missing her mitral valve at birth. So she has had multiple heart surgeries. She’s had three heart surgeries since she was born to repair this valve. What happened was we think … she went into cardiac arrest from going into polymorphic ventricular tachycardia.”

Ventricular tachycardia is a fast heart beat that arises from improper electrical activity in the ventricles of the heart. Although short stints are not problematic, longer periods can be dangerous.

“It was definitely the worst day of my life having to watch your daughter (like that),” Mandy said. “It just seemed like it went on and on and on, time is just — you’re just looking, ‘Where are the paramedics,’ and we just kept thinking the whole time we just expected her to cough up and start breathing and she would come back and the time just kept going on and on and on I just could just see my daughter slipping away. It was horrible.”

When Priority arrived on scene, paramedics took over and through a series of efforts were able to regain a pulse.

Travis Estes, Priority Emergency Medical Services director, said she was then taken to Fort Loudoun Medical Center, airlifted to East Tennessee Children’s Hospital for a few days and then transported to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where she had open heart surgery for an internal defibrillator.

“She was in full cardiac arrest — no pulse, not breathing,” Estes said “… We remember it very vividly. That’s one of those calls — I mean when you’re dealing with youth or children or kids, those typically are calls that kind of stick out to you. Plus it having a positive outcome to where we were able to start her heart and regain pulses and she was able to survive this catastrophic heart failure issue that she had. We were able to keep up with them different times along her journey.”

Priority Ambulance representatives Estes, James Jenkins, Edwin Suarez and Bennett Duncan were nominated for helping save Morgan’s life by Children’s Emergency Care Alliance of Tennessee and in Nashville on May 15 were presented with the Star of Life award.

“It’s a great recognition and honor for us,” Estes said. “Like I said, I mean the biggest thing is being able to see Morgan standing there being able to hug us and talk to us and seeing her smile and laugh with her family. June the 29th of 2018 could have ended that for that child and that family.

“I think it reiterates our initiative here in Loudon County as far as the amount of CPR classes that we teach to the public, to the school systems,” he added. “We usually teach 500-600 people CPR every year, but I think this falls in line that early recognition — early, good, effective CPR, which the family and the friends were able to initiate before we could get to her, prolongs how long somebody may stay in that rhythm that gives us more of a chance to work with it.”

For Mandy and her family, it was the first time they had seen some of the people who helped save Morgan’s life.

“I don’t have words to adequately say how my heart feels about the people that were involved to help save her life,” Mandy said. “‘Thank you’ seems very inadequate, and there’s not a day that goes by that I’m not thankful for those people.”

Morgan has since graduated from Lenoir City High School and plans to attend the University of Tennessee in the fall with a focus on child and family services. Her family has now become a proponent of CPR.

The next Priority Ambulance CPR class open to the public is June 1 at Central United Methodist Church. For more information, contact Estes at travis.estes@priorityambulance.com.

“The more people we can train hopefully the more impact we can make on our own community and families by decreasing the amount of poor outcomes in cardiac arrest,” Estes said.