EVERETT — Gloria Savinski stood at the front of View Ridge Community Church on July 26 with a microphone in hand, knowing how difficult it would be to say what was in her heart.
There was no way, really, to thank church members enough for what they had done for her brother, Vic Brown, a Navy veteran increasingly disabled by Lou Gehrig’s disease.
The day before, about two dozen people had gathered at his home in Everett, helping with chores, cutting grass, removing unneeded items from the family’s lot, repairing drywall and bringing food — “massive food,” Savinski said. “It was great.”
Before the church service began, Savinski warned her pastor, E.T. Tapper, that she might be emotional.
“She’s up there talking, sharing, how much it meant … say two to three minutes,” Tapper said. “Then all of a sudden, like she passed out, she started falling backwards.”
Despite her fall, Savinski’s hand still gripped the microphone. It picked up the jagged gasping of her breaths.
Jackie Davis, an emergency medical dispatcher who was sitting in a nearby pew, instantly recognized the danger.
“You call 911 — now!” Davis said to a family member as she jumped from her seat.
When Davis knelt at Savinski’s side, she was startled by her condition: She didn’t have a pulse. Her face was ashen gray. Her lips had started to turn blue.
“It was instant,” Davis said. “I’ve never seen anyone go from alive to dead so fast.”
Nevertheless, she began reciting the instructions she had given people so many times over the phone as an emergency dispatcher on how to perform CPR.
“It was like I was reading our flip chart at work,” Davis said. “I was barking like Ms. Bossy.” Two breaths after every 30 chest compressions.
She told the church’s bass player, who also rushed to help and is trained in CPR, to make sure he pushed down hard on Savinski’s chest.
“I want to hear you count!” Davis said.
Davis tilted Savinski’s head back and gave her two deep breaths. “You’re putting your breath into that person and praying to God it’s enough to bring them back.”
* * *
With a small circle of people attending to Savinski, Tapper gathered other church members at the back of the church. They clasped hands, formed a circle, and prayed.
Medics arrived about 4 ½ minutes after the call to 911, Davis said.
The sheer coincidence that Davis was attending church that day allowed her to assess Savinski’s condition, recognize that she was going into cardiac arrest and give her the care she needed until medics arrived, said Pete Vier, division chief of emergency medicine for the Everett Fire Department.
In situations like Savinski’s, “we usually do two minutes of CPR,” he said. But Davis had been doing CPR so well that medics “went right into advanced procedures — they shocked her three times and she came back with a pulse,” he said.
Even so, Savinski’s pulse stopped again in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. And her pulse stopped a third time — or in hurried, verbal medical shorthand, she “coded” — after she arrived at the emergency room of Providence Regional Medical Center Everett.
The longer it takes for the heart to regain its normal rhythms, the more resistant it is to the shocks to try to restart it, explained Sheila Bleakney, a supervisory nurse in the hospital’s critical care unit. “Even though you’re doing CPR, it’s not like your own heart is doing it,” she said.
Savinski’s gurney was surrounded by monitoring equipment and an emergency room team of up to 15 people. They worked about an hour to stabilize her, and she was treated and monitored in the emergency room for another hour after that.
Savinski’s husband, Darrell Savinski, who had been summoned to the hospital, was standing nearby trying to come to grips emotionally with all that had happened.
Just a few hours before, he was sitting at the kitchen table of their Marysville home as his wife left for the 9 a.m. church service.
She stopped to kiss him. “See you around 10:30,” she said.
“When she left home, she was just fine,” Darrell Savinski said. “She had a big smile on her face.”
He was taken to the area of the emergency room where his wife was being treated. He saw a chaplain standing nearby.
“I went over and whispered in her ear,” he said. “I told her I loved her; not to leave me. I needed her.”
* * *
Savinski, 62, was transferred to the hospital’s critical care unit. She remained on a ventilator for three days.
Then, doctors performed triple bypass surgery on her heart. Her problems included a partial blockage of the left coronary artery, which provides blood to the heart.
On Wednesday, a week after her surgery, she was sitting up in a chair, waiting to be discharged from the hospital — sore, still in pain, but alive.
“I think what made the difference is the bystander CPR,” said Cathy Marker, an emergency room nurse who helped treat Savinski. “I didn’t think this woman was going to make it. I got goose bumps when I heard she did.”
Savinski said she doesn’t remember collapsing at church and her treatment the next several days at the hospital. “It’s like a blank screen of time,” she said. “I lost three days I didn’t expect to lose.”
She said it’s overwhelming to think of everyone who stepped up to help, but “I don’t know quite what to say to them,” she said. “I’m eternally grateful.”
Savinski’s activities will be restricted for weeks. She won’t be able to lift anything heavier than a few pounds. Her plans to be a caregiver to her brother have been dashed.
Now, she said, she plans to slow down and enjoy life. She may return to her work as a certified nursing assistant providing in-home care. Or she and her husband may decide to travel, taking in more experiences like last year’s trip to Alaska, which included an airplane tour of glaciers.
Meanwhile Tapper, her pastor, said that in the 25 years he has spent in the ministry, he has never witnessed anything like what he saw during the July 26 service.
“A woman collapses with no pulse. Then boom! She comes back to life.
“Every time I tell the story I get excited,” he said. “It was such an amazing, amazing day.”
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486, firstname.lastname@example.org.