In a true case of being in the right place at the right time, Cowley nurse practitioner Shelby Frost helped save the life of a young man at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport last week.
Frost, who has worked as a provider at North Big Horn Hospital in Lovell and will open her own clinic in Powell in August, was traveling to take her son Treyson to orientation at the University of North Dakota when she came face to face with a life or death situation in the airport.
“It was a really crazy experience,” Frost said as she began to tell the tale of her life-saving experience.
The Frosts, mother and son, were en route to Grand Forks with Shelby’s mother, Holly Stevenson of Rock Springs, and had landed in Minneapolis on the evening of Wednesday, July 11. While walking to gate C-12, the trio had stopped to double check the gate at an information kiosk when a little girl tripped over a suitcase, fell and cut her lip on her braces. Frost checked her out and after making sure she was OK, started walking again.
Little did she know that the little girl was not the only
“patient” she would see that evening, with a far more dire situation just ahead of her.
As the three reached the area of C-12 in front of the Twins Grill, named for the city’s baseball team, a young man nearby “just collapsed,” Frost said. It was around 7:30 p.m.
“We were about 10 feet from him and thought maybe he had tripped, but it was much more than that. We realized he was having a seizure,” she said. “Mom started running to a security phone.”
Frost knelt down and was joined by a man named Rakesh and another man named Mark, who was an EMT. What followed was a true team effort.
The young man who fell was a 22-year-old named Austin from Charlotte, N.C., Frost later learned, and was “completely unconscious and seizing,” she said. His cell phone was on the floor nearby, and Frost grabbed the phone to see if she could find a relative in the phone’s contact information but realized she couldn’t unlock the iPhone. But Rakesh gently placed the man’s thumb on the fingerprint ID button, and the phone opened immediately.
The second to last text had “Dad” and the young man’s last name on it, so Frost called that number and Austin’s father, working in a large aluminum plant in Illinois, answered. Frost identified herself and asked if Austin had any kind of seizure disorder. No, the father explained, but he did have heart problems and had a pacemaker in his heart. He said Frost should also talk to Austin’s mother, who was in the airport in Chicago about to board a plane for North Carolina.
But seeing Austin’s condition, Frost asked the father to notify Austin’s mother, saying that she needed to get off the phone. The mother a bit later called Frost’s phone and the father called Austin’s phone.
The mom quickly made arrangements to change her flight from North Carolina to Minneapolis, and given the nature of the situation, the airline literally escorted her onto a Minneapolis bound flight as the plane waited for her, Frost said.
Working the situation
Meanwhile, Austin was suffering from a ventricular tachycardia – full cardiac arrest, so Frost took command of the situation.
“He was breathing when he collapsed, but then it got really slow and he was turning grey,” Frost said. “He was only taking a breath about every 20 or 30 seconds. We decided to administer CPR.”
Mark started CPR while someone hurried to find an AED – an automated external defibrillator – in the airport.
“I yelled and a young man ran and grabbed it,” Frost said. “A security guard and Mark put it on.”
The AED advised to shock the patient as he was in cardiac arrest. The shock was administered and CPR was performed for about eight minutes, with Mark and another man alternating. Austin’s father said he could hear Frost yelling orders. Holly and Treyson and others shouted encouragement to the young man.
“I was throwing out orders as fast and hard as I could,” Frost said, adding that Rakesh took down vital information from the parents and Frost, so when paramedics arrived they had important information they needed to proceed.
It took about 10 minutes for the airport paramedics to arrive, which Frost said was “the worst feeling — helpless” and when they did, they ended up shocking Austin four more times and continuing CPR.
The paramedics eventually got Austin’s heart rate back up, and Frost later learned that quickly administering CPR and the initial AED shock, as they did, likely saved the young man’s life – and his quality of life.
More than half an hour after his collapse, paramedics finally wheeled Austin away on a gurney, but his fate was far from assured.
“Some guys at the restaurant thought he had died, and I was really scared he wouldn’t make it,” Frost said. “But when he was on the gurney his eyes blinked and there was a flicker in them.”
The Frosts made their flight to Grand Forks, where Treyson will attend commercial aviation school at UND, and Shelby kept up to date on Austin’s condition with his mother and father. The mom told Frost that Austin had gone into cardiac arrest three times before, each time in the hospital following surgery. He had two artificial heart valves and a pacemaker, but no defibrillator. He had been at Six Flags the day before riding roller coasters with no ill effects.
The mom said she had done some research and only 20 percent of those suffering cardiac arrest outside a hospital setting survive the arrest, and only 8 percent of the 20 percent come away with no brain damage. But thanks to Frost and her helpers, Austin found himself in that 8 percent.
Austin was unconscious for nearly two days, Frost said, and his body was cooled to prevent brain damage. He had a few difficulties as they warmed
him a couple of days later, she said, but when they woke him up around 3 p.m. Friday doctors said his heart looked good and he didn’t have any brain damage.
“It was literally a miracle,” Frost said. “I thought he wouldn’t wake up or would be on life support.”
When Shelby, Holly and Treyson flew home Sunday, they were met at the Minneapolis airport by Austin’s father and mother and step-father and step-mother.
“It was really nice and super emotional,” Shelby said. “The timing of everything was crazy. His mom called me his guardian angel.”
In the end, beyond the stress and drama of the situation, Frost learned one thing – to always be prepared — and said that upon returning to Cowley she immediately ordered an AED for her new clinic – Five Springs Health and Wellness – as well as gloves and a CPR mask to assist with a patient’s breathing during chest compressions, which she will carry with her when she travels.
Frost worked for North Big Horn Hospital Clinic for four years as a nurse practitioner and 15 years overall and will open Five Springs Health and Wellness – one of a very few nurse practitioner clinics in Wyoming – in August. The new clinic will open at 246 N. Absaroka in Powell.
By David Peck