Finding angels in the aisles

By BRIAN KELLY

Herald Writer

A trip to the Everett Fred Meyer store to get a Christmas present ended in a life-beats-death drama as customers and store employees brought an 83-year-old woman back to life after her heart stopped and she quit breathing.

Tina Stensland of Arlington, a registered nurse at Providence Everett Medical Center, left work early Monday so she could look at bedsheets at the store. She had already been to Fred Meyers in Mount Vernon and Marysville, but those stores didn’t have the right sheets. On the way, she picked up Lucille Ellis, a friend who lives near the store.

"I thanked God that I picked her up today," Stensland said. "Had I not gone to get her … she would have been dead in her house.

"I think God has one more plan for her."

After the pair arrived at the store, Ellis got the skillet she wanted for a gift, and they both walked over to the linen department.

"She started complaining of a tummyache, and one thing progressed to another," Stensland recalled.

She yelled for someone to call 911, and Ellis lost consciousness. An employee in the hardware section, Tom Russell, told Stensland he was an EMT.

A minute, maybe more, slipped by and Ellis stopped breathing. They felt for a pulse, but it was gone.

The pair began CPR; Stensland starting mouth-to-mouth while Russell did the chest compressions. It was the first time Stensland had ever performed CPR outside a hospital.

Craig Steinhebel, manager of the home department, told the dispatcher of the efforts to revive the woman.

The frantic rescue inspired some quick thinking. Stensland, coordinator of community training classes for first aid and CPR at Providence, told Russell they should use the new CPR guidelines. Instead of five chest compressions for every breath, they used a 15-to-2 ratio.

"He knew exactly what I meant," Stensland said. "I couldn’t have gotten more textbook help.

"And after about three or four cycles of 15 compressions to two … she brought her hand up to her chest," Stensland recalled.

She checked for a pulse, and Stensland and Russell agreed Ellis had one and was starting to breathe. They rolled her over on her side.

"Lucille, Lucille," Stensland called.

"And then she kind of opened up her eyes and looked at me and said, ‘What happened?’ "

Stensland praised store employees and customers who helped. When she asked for a blanket, someone grabbed a bedspread off a bed display. Someone else snatched a matching pillow and passed it over.

Stensland leaned over and told Ellis an ambulance was on the way.

Later, Stensland said she didn’t consider herself a hero. It was education that beat the odds. Having people nearby who knew what to do was the key, she said. Nationwide, just 5 percent of people who have cardiac arrest outside a hospital survive.

"The fact that she lived is a miracle. I literally felt her pulse go away," Stensland said.

As Ellis was wheeled to the ambulance, she thanked Stensland for taking her to the store. Stensland thought her friend was worried she wouldn’t take her out again.

"It just broke my heart," Stensland said. But she held her tears until Ellis was taken away.

Stensland went back to the store and retrieved the skillet and sheets. And then she took the frying pan to Ellis at the hospital.

"You know, you saved my life today," Ellis told her.

"We all did, " Stensland replied.

Ellis was released from the hospital Tuesday. And she was anxious to thank her friend again.

"She told me, ‘I’m so glad you came and got me because I did not want to die at Christmas,’ " Stensland said.

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