6 Pa. first responders honored for saving woman in cardiac arrest

EMS Supervisor Diane Fitzhenry said the young woman likely would not have survived if it weren’t for the quick action of six of the municipality’s emergency responders

Dillon Carr
The Tribune-Review

PENN HILLS, Pa. — Penn Hills officials recognized six first responders for their work to save a young woman after she suffered a near-fatal cardiac arrest last year.

Taylor Allen, 21, suffered from a sudden cardiac arrest on July 31 at her grandmother’s home in Penn Hills. Penn Hills EMS Supervisor Diane Fitzhenry said the young woman likely would not have survived if it weren’t for the quick action of six of the municipality’s emergency responders.

Allen was on her way to use the bathroom when she collapsed in the hallway.

“At that point, her grandmother was unable to remove her … and start CPR,” said Diane Fitzhenry, Penn Hills EMS Supervisor.

But Penn Hills Officer Alyssa Finnegan was one block away. Upon her arrival, Fitzhenry said, the officer removed Allen from the tight space and began CPR as other EMS officials arrived.

Finnegan, William Beirman, Lorenzo Garino, Devin Cummings, William Kriedler, Jarrett Phillips and Cody Brownfield worked together to save Allen from death, Fitzhenry said.

The emergency responders’ quick action was vital, said Cheryl Rickens, co-chair of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Association of Western Pennsylvania.

She said Allen is part of the small amount of people in the area who have survived the often fatal occurrence that is sudden cardiac arrest – an unexpected loss of heart function, breathing and consciousness.

Rickens said around 350,000 people die every year in the U.S. from sudden cardiac arrest. She said the unexpected episode happens mostly in people with genetic defects that go undetected.

“In (Allen’s) case, she was found to have long QT syndrome,” Rickens said. The syndrome causes irregular heartbeats, creating a susceptibility to sudden cardiac arrest and other heart conditions, she said.

As part of Allen’s recovery, a device to regulate her heartbeat was implanted in her heart.

Fitzhenry said Allen’s incident highlights the importance of education on what to do in cardiac emergencies.

“We respond to these sorts of cases around 100 times in a year,” Fitzhenry said. “And the stats are pretty abysmal. We are seeing better (survival) numbers in the Pittsburgh area than other parts of the country, but we’re still not where other parts of the country are. Some places have higher rates of survival.”

Nationally, the survival rate sits around eight to 12 percent, Rickens said. In Pittsburgh, the rate is anywhere from 16 to 20 percent because of the first-rate health care and education efforts, she said.

Fitzhenry said the municipality’s new EMS building can accommodate classes for CPR at the junior high level. She and others also travel to the schools to teach children how to perform CPR.

“It’s not often we’re able to resuscitate. Those experiences are small in number, which makes the need to bring this out in the public that more important,” she said.

A tearful Allen expressed her thanks during the April 15 ceremony.

“Thanks to you and the help of God, you all gave me the chance to live another day. You gave me a chance to see 21 and enjoy another birthday and enjoy another day in life … there are no words on this earth that can explain the gratitude and the appreciation that I have for what you did for me,” she said.

Her words inspired the crowd to burst into song. All in attendance sang “Happy Birthday” to Allen.


©2019 The Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.)


McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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