Umpire’s quick response helps save a life
BEMIDJI — Jerry Hemstad’s dad was the fire chief in Walker and, as a kid in the early 1970s, Hemstad tagged along with his father and tried to learn as many lessons as possible about the whats, whys and hows of his dad’s profession.
Those lessons included proper identification and treatment of injuries and as a Boy Scout, and later as an officer with the Bemidji Jaycees, Hemstad continued his emergency medical training.
"I’m not certified but I have gone through a lot of life saving training," Hemstad said. "I remember dad telling me when I was a kid that if you see something wrong and if you think something is wrong, it’s wrong."
Monday night at the Bemidji softball complex Hemstad saw something wrong. He was umpiring a game on Field 2 when he noticed softball players on the adjacent field surrounding Andrew Hillmer, a teammate who apparently had injured his knee.
"They were with him for quite a while and then I saw them carrying him by the third base dugout," Hemstad said.
Hemstad knew that carrying someone with a knee injury was wrong and he suspended the game he was working to check on Hillmer. When Hillmer was carried to the picnic area behind the home plate fences, however, Hemstad could tell that the situation was worse than it had first appeared.
"I could see the guy starting to convulse and I had them put him (Hillmer) onto the ground," Hemstad said. "When I got to him he was convulsing very hard. I have had lots of paramedic training and I knew that the first thing we had to do was stabilize him and open his airways. I actually reached in and grabbed his tongue to clear the pathway.
"We had him stabilized and things seemed to be fine. But then he stopped breathing."
Instead of wondering what to do next, however, Hemstad’s instincts kicked in and he immediately administered CPR.
"I could tell that he was in serious trouble but I was able to get him back and he appeared to be fine," Hemstad recalled. "But then, he stopped breathing again. It was so amazing how he was so quickly in and out of consciousness."
During the ordeal, Hillmer stopped breathing four times and on each occasion Hemstad, and the people he recruited to assist, were able to bring him back.
"He’d be OK and we’d be having a conversation and then he would convulse and stop breathing," Hemstad said. "I would do a couple breaths on him and he’d be back. And then he’d stop breathing again."
After about a half hour, the ambulance arrived and Hillmer was transported to Sanford Bemidji Medical Center. On Tuesday, hospital officials would neither confirm nor deny that Hillmer remained a patient.
"When the ambulance arrived, I knew the guy was going to be OK because he was stable," Hemstad said. "After about a 45-minute delay, we went back to our games, finished them and then went home."
Monday’s incident rekindled memories of a similar situation at the Bemidji softball field about 30 years ago. Hemstad was umpiring another game when a boy about 10-years-old started to convulse.
"When his mom picked him up (outside the left field foul fence) the boy was limp," Hemstad recalled.
Hemstad immediately ran to the scene, started CPR and continued the emergency treatment until the ambulance arrived.
"I had a gal helping me by doing chest pumps," Hemstad said. "It seemed like we worked on the boy for four hours but really it probably was about 30 minutes.
"But there was a different feeling that time because by the time the ambulance came I didn’t think the boy was going to make it," Hemstad said. "I remember his mom asking me how he was doing and all I could say was that I didn’t know."
Monday’s incident was the fifth time Hemstad has administered CPR to someone whose life was in danger. About 20 years ago, he worked on an older gentleman who stopped breathing while walking to his car near where the current Bemidji Hardee’s is located. Also about that time, a teenage boy stopped breathing in Bemidji and Hemstad was in the area to administer CPR.
"I think the older gentleman had a heart attack and he didn’t make it," Hemstad said. "I don’t know what was wrong with the teenager but he did survive."
Hemstad’s most recent incident happened in 2011 in St. Joseph, Minn., when he was taking his son to St. John’s University. He and his family were at a restaurant having dinner when a woman passed out.
"Everybody thought she was choking, but she had actually stopped breathing," Hemstad said. "I think she had a heart attack."
Despite Hemstad’s attempts to revive her, the woman died.
"You never know what’s going to happen next," Hemstad said "Whenever I can help somebody out, whether it is life-threatening or a minor incident, it makes me feel good.
"On Monday night, I’m just glad I stopped my game and took control of the situation. I’m glad I knew enough to be of some help."