BEMIDJI -- Samantha Erickson and Debora Wenzel didn’t know each other all that well when they started their day Oct. 9 and went into work at the Bemidji Veterinary Hospital. And yet, by the time Oct. 9 was over, Erickson would play a pivotal role as to why Wenzel is able to continue living without any permanent medical disabilities.
On Wednesday, the Bemidji Police Department recognized Erickson with a Life Saving Award for the role she played in a 911 call on Oct. 9. Erickson was working at the veterinarian hospital when Wenzel, a co-worker, collapsed. Erickson began performing CPR until first responders arrived.
“Without the quick thinking and willingness to start CPR by Samantha Erickson, the actions of the emergency responders and the life-saving medical equipment, the life of Debora Wenzel would not have been saved,” Tabitha Carrigan, a Bemidji Police Officer, said Wednesday at a small ceremony held at the veterinary hospital.
Carrigan said it is the first life-saving award the Bemidji Police Department has given to a citizen who is not already trained as a first responder.
Wenzel had just started at the veterinary hospital since they needed some help charting. Erickson is the staff supervisor and was helping Wenzel work through the hospital’s systems. A nurse of 20 years, Wenzel was a good candidate for the job.
“She already knew all of the medical terminology; she already knew about lots of medications we use,” Erickson said.
Wenzel and Erickson were finishing up their day. Wenzel was preparing to leave and pick up her grandchildren. That's when she told Erickson that she was starting to feel dizzy. She put her elbows on her knees. She then fell out of her chair as Erickson caught her.
Although Erickson has experience as a veterinary technician, it had been years since she was CPR certified. Still, she knew what to do. She rushed out to tell someone to call 911 and then began performing CPR.
Carrigan said law enforcement was relatively close to the hospital when the 911 call went out, but she wasn’t able to say exactly how long Erickson was alone with Wenzel. Erickson said it was probably a shorter time than it seemed.
“It felt like forever,” Erickson said.
As a nurse, Wenzel knows there aren’t a lot of situations where somebody gets to thank the person who saved them.
For that matter, she also knows how fortunate she is. Although she doesn’t remember the event, Wenzel had 20 years of experience as an emergency room nurse and knows first hand just how rare it is to come out of that kind of scenario with no permanent damage. She said the event that caused her to collapse was cardiac arrhythmia.
"There aren't many people who make it through, and even fewer make it through without any deficits, so 'Thank you,'" Wenzel said during the ceremony in front of a room of Erickson and the other responders.
In fact, Wenzel said the chances are "unimaginably low" that someone can come out of that kind of medical emergency in as good a condition as she did. Wenzel knows the reason she became one of the lucky ones is because of Erickson and the other first responders who arrived on the scene.
"These people did as good a job as can be done… they did everything right,” Wenzel said.