Special Report: In Your Hands

Published: Feb. 10, 2017 at 10:23 AM CST
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If someone has a heart attack, stroke, or other cardiac related incident, nothing in Wisconsin law requires 9-1-1 call centers to train their telecommunicators how to perform CPR or other medical procedures, meaning they might not be able to provide a caller help over the phone.

The American Heart Association is currently working with legislators to make this training a requirement, calling it 9-1-1 Pre-arrival Instructions. Several counties throughout the state already have a similar training procedure in place, including Marathon, Portage, and Lincoln counties.

Heart disease is the number one killer, not only in the nation, but Wisconsin as well. The American Heart Association states if you collapse outside of a hospital setting, there is only a 46 percent chance someone will perform

on you before paramedics arrive. The incident has a high likelihood of happening in the home as well, with 70 percent of incidents that do not happen in a hospital, occurring at home.

Sometimes, however, it happens out in the wilderness. Imagine a lake, warmed by the summer sun. That is the setting Jennifer Koback was in on Otter Lake in Stanley at the end of July, 2015.

“We were supposed to go home that morning,” she recalled. “The people that were coming into the campground site that we were in had canceled, so the park manager asked us if we'd like to stay three more days and we said, 'well yeah, most definitely!'"

The Wisconsin Rapids native and her husband decided to go fishing in an area they had not gone to before.

"We weren't really catching anything,” she said. “So, my husband says 'well there's another boat coming around to get out of their way,' so I said, 'okay.' And we were just exiting the bay and my husband said, 'I think they're fighting back there!' And he turned the boat and I got to the point where I could see them and I said, 'no, that guy is in trouble.'"

One of the two men on the boat had collapsed. Koback took action.

"We just pulled up to the other boat and I jumped in...and I gave him a quick thump on the chest,” Koback remembered, “I told his brother-in-law, I said, 'get this seat out of my way.' And I just leaned down and there was no breath and he was purple. And I just said 'go to the boat landing.' And while he was driving to the boat landing, I was performing CPR."

Koback knew how to perform CPR because of a life-changing incident that happened almost 50 years earlier.

"When I was a senior in high school,” Koback recalled, “17-years-old, the weekend after Thanksgiving we had a house full of company. And my sister passed away. She had an undiagnosed heart condition and out of the nine of us in the house, no one knew how to do CPR...On that day, I decided I was never going to let that happen to me again."

"Time is of the essence," Micah Bongberg, CEO of Allied 100 said. Tucked between the trees in Woodruff, Bongberg’s company is better known as the


"By nature of cardiac arrest,” he began, “someone collapses because they're not getting oxygen-rich blood to their brain. And so they are essentially passing out, fainting, and clinically dead."

The brain can only survive four to six minutes without oxygen.

"CPR is prolonging and acting as sort of an artificial pump to perfuse oxygen-rich blood to the vital organs and to the brain," Bongberg explained.

According to the AHA, while CPR can help revive people, if someone goes into cardiac arrest, CPR will only keep the oxygen moving throughout the body; a defibrillator is needed to get the heart beating again.

"They're meant very much to be used together," said Sara Henn, Allied 100 customer care coordinator. She gives vital advice and training to AED customers.

"The chance of survival without having an AED or doing CPR reduces by 10 percent every minute," she said.

She and Bongberg emphasized AEDs are safe for people who are not trained, to use them, and people should not be afraid to grab one if an emergency arises. Once the power button is pressed, the machine will walk users through the steps they need to take to properly apply a shock if needed.

“AEDs are incredibly smart devices,” explained Henn. "They're going to look for two certain heart rhythms that can be treated and if it finds anything other than that, even if it finds a completely regular heartbeat, it will not allow you to give a shock, even if you would push the button a hundred times. It can do no harm to you or the patient."

Frank Hanousek is the communications lieutenant with the Marathon County Sheriff’s Office and told NewsChannel 7 that “some of the buildings and organizations, and agencies within the county have provided” information on where their defibrillators are stored. He added while the machines are common in businesses, schools, and governmental buildings, they are not usually found in homes.

"The majority of our cardiac cases or cardiac calls are private residences," said Hanousek.

Telecommunicator Chad Zerkle of the Marathon County Sheriff’s Office said cardiac calls are one of the most common calls they receive at the dispatch center. An exact number could not be provided because the calls are strictly recorded as a medical call, which includes other medical-related incidents. He said he and the other dispatchers in the county are trained to give step by step guidance for medical calls, should a caller need it, including for CPR.

"It's you and I, one on one and we get through it the best we can," explained Zerkle.

"Many of our residents live in rural Lincoln County. They're several miles away from a responding unit and take time to get there," said Lincoln County Communications Lieutenant Tim Fischer. While he speaks for his county, the same issue applies for much of the NewsChannel 7 viewing area.

"Listening to instructions and implementing CPR, even if you've never done it, our staff is trained to get people in position and at least be doing something until medical staff can arrive," said Fischer.

Even if counties have dispatchers that will be able to provide knowledge of CPR until paramedics arrive, the call could still be dropped, the phone’s battery could be dead, or a phone could be absent from the scene, meaning prior training and knowledge is the only option. For Koback, she did not have a phone on her; she had another boat nearby dial 9-1-1; that boat lost contact with dispatchers.

"Didn't know I could actually do it until the guy on the lake, but I can," laughed Koback. The man in the boat, Pat, is now alive and well. "We've now become very close."

Mustering up the courage to tell her story to a NewsChannel 7 camera, Koback urges everyone to learn CPR, how to use and be comfortable using an AED, and to keep up on that training.

"If someone close to you, that you love is in need, I think you're going to jump in and do it if you know what to do," she said. "The reward outweighs the risk."

Marshfield Clinic will be hosting free community CPR training sessions at its Wausau center on Thursday, Feb. 16. The session will take place from 5-7:30 p.m. in the Plaza Room through the clinic’s west entrance. The class reflects AHA’s most up-to-date CPR and emergency cardiovascular care guidelines, but is not a certification course, designed to allow general community members to know the lifesaving skills.

is required and space is limited to 20 participants. Call 715-389-7559 for more information and future sessions planned throughout the Marshfield Clinic coverage area. You can also find more AHA training sessions