Volunteer at Red Cross goes into cardiac arrest, CPR teachers revive him

Two CPR instructors left their classroom to perform CPR until paramedics arrived

By Heather J. Carlson
The Post-Bulletin

ROCHESTER, Minn. — For days, Don Whited had been struggling to find the right words to say to the two women who saved his life.

"It's not every day that you are going up and thanking someone for saving your life," Whited told a crowd of 80 people gathered earlier this week at the American Red Cross in Rochester.

But when the moment came, Whited knew just what to say.

"I am considering you guys my guardian angels, if that's OK," he said.

He added, "Thank you very much."

Whited is the first to admit he likely would have died Jan. 2, 2016, if it had not been for Jennifer Brandt and Shannan Stoltz. It was a Saturday and a storm had dumped plenty of snow on Rochester. Whited, a Red Cross volunteer, showed up and began blowing snow out of the parking lot. After a few minutes of work, he felt tired. He went into the building and sat down with a cup of coffee.

Moments later, fellow volunteer and friend Walt Lorber arrived. He sat down with Whited and the two chatted before things took a sudden, scary turn. Whited threw his head back and made a strange snorting noise. At first, Lorber thought Whited was kidding. But Whited did it again.

"Then I realized he is not kidding me. He's in trouble," Lorber said.

As fate would have it, a CPR class for health-care providers had just gotten underway in a nearby room. Lorber ran into the room and told the class something was wrong with his friend. Brandt and Stoltz were among the first ones out of the room. At first, Stoltz was convinced this was part of the class — a realistic re-enactment to help with training. She ran up to Whited and began touching him, trying to get a response. He didn't flinch, causing her to think he was quite the actor.

It was only after she told Brandt — the class's instructor — that she was going to begin chest compressions that she realized this was a real emergency.

"I'm still thinking this is just a test, and I'm waiting for somebody to say, 'Cut!' and she's like, 'OK, go ahead,'" Stoltz said.

Whited was not breathing and didn't have a pulse. The other students in the class called 911 and gathered emergency supplies. When the paramedics arrived, they grabbed the nearby automated defibrillator and shocked Whited's heart three times. They were able to get his heart beating again. They then whisked the patient off to Saint Marys Hospital in an ambulance.

Brandt and Stoltz returned to the classroom to finish the course.

On Monday night, Brandt and Stoltz were presented with the American Red Cross' highest award — the Certificate of Merit, which is signed by President Obama. Only about 40 people per year are given the award, said Melanie Tschida, executive director the American Red Cross Southeast Minnesota Chapter. The award was given to the women in the very room where they saved Whited's life.

Tschida said this story could have easily had a devastating ending. But thanks to the heroics of these two women, Whited is alive.

"There are so many what ifs. But thankfully, we don't have to do the what ifs because Don was in the right place at the right time with people who took immediate action when he needed it," she said.

Brandt, an instructor for Twin Cities Safety, said she was stunned by all the recognition.

"I was doing my job and when there's an emergency, we act," she said.

Stoltz, who met Whited for the first time at the event , was also overwhelmed. She is a former police officer who graduated from Rochester Community and Technical College in May with a degree in nursing.

"It's profound. It's surreal," she said.

'Pretty good for a dead man'

Whited said he later found out he suffered a heart attack. He underwent triple bypass surgery. Six months later, the 67-year-old retiree said he is feeling good.

"I'm doing pretty good for a dead man," he said with a laugh.

At the end of the brief awards ceremony, Whited gave each of his rescuers a gift — a necklace with a heart-shaped pendant.

He told them, "When you put that on, you think about what you did for me."

Copyright 2016 the Post-Bulletin

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