When there's no doctor in the house, AVC nursing student comes to the rescue

An Antelope Valley College nursing student is credited with helping save the life of a patron at a local fitness club.

Michelle Wheeler, a second-year registered nursing student due to graduate from AVC next month, had just arrived for a workout at a Lancaster fitness club about 6:30 p.m. May 5 when she heard an announcement of a “code blue” come over the public address system.

Wheeler was accustomed to hearing the “code blue” call for someone in need of resuscitation in the hospital.

“I was thinking maybe they’re running an exercise for their employees,” Wheeler said. Then she heard a second call come out of a “code blue” and need of a doctor or nurse.
Wheeler, who was changing into her workout gear, dashed out of the locker room while still trying to get her shoes on and headed for the gym’s cardio area with its treadmills, bikes and stair steppers.

“As I was running out, I saw a couple of people standing around this man lying flat on the treadmill,” she said.

Another gym member, Marcus, who identified himself as an EMT, was checking the pulse of the man.

Wheeler knew right away the man was in trouble due to agonal breathing – breathing she likened to that of a fish out of water. The man’s pupils were fixed and he was unresponsive.

Wheeler quickly did what she had been taught at AVC: assess the situation and respond accordingly.

“I didn’t think about anything else. I got in the zone. It was like instinct to know what I was supposed to do,” said Wheeler

Determining that a gym employee had already called 911, Wheeler directed Marcus to begin chest compressions. Wheeler asked for the gym’s automatic external defibrillator (AED) and then, joined by another gym employee, Mike, both sprinted to the AED.

With the AED in hand, Wheeler started undoing the paddles while Mike opened up the device and turned it on – all while running back to the man.

Marcus pulled up the middle-aged victim’s shirt, grabbed a razor from the AED kit and shaved hair from the man’s chest in order to get good contact with the paddles. Wheeler searched for any medication patches that would interfere with the AED and then applied patches from the AED to the man’s torso.

Meanwhile, another woman had arrived and she relieved Marcus on chest compressions.

The AED issued a signal for the rescuers to clear away from the victim.

“I shocked him,” Wheeler said. “Within three to five seconds he was breathing again. He had good pulses.”

The student nurse tried to get information from the victim to determine if he knew where he was and if he was taking any medications.

Fire department personnel arrived about a minute after the victim had been revived. The man was taken by ambulance to a hospital.

Coincidentally, Wheeler had recently completed training on the college’s high-tech simulator mannequin, which can be programmed by instructors to display a variety of physical symptoms that student nurses must assess. Among the simulations is one in which the mannequin suffers a myocardial infarction – a heart attack.

“Michelle had been through the simulation,” said Dr. Karen Cowell, dean of the Health Sciences/Child and Family Education Division. “She was able to bring that knowledge from a classroom situation to the real world.”

Cowell said the incident points to the value of the simulations nursing students go through. Even though nursing students spend many hours getting clinical experience in hospitals and other medical facilities, they may never treat a patient with a heart attack or other life-threatening situation. That’s where the simulations come into play.

“I learned a lot from that simulation. Delegating is really important; making sure that people are doing what they should be doing,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler was approached at the scene by a Los Angeles County Fire Department captain who congratulated her for her work in resuscitating the man.

Wheeler will take the national licensing exam to become a registered nurse after her June 3 AVC nursing pinning ceremony. She hopes to secure a nursing job with a local hospital.