EAU CLAIRE, Wis. — Everyone was in the right place at the right time — one more time.
Rescuers involved in saving the life of a Canadian motorist gathered at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire on Wednesday night, Nov. 16, to reunite with Victor Giesbrecht.
“I can’t thank the people enough,” said an emotional Giesbrecht, 61, of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. “This is about the goodness of humanity at work.”
With smiles, tears, hugs and handshakes, Giesbrecht and his wife, Ann, shared their gratitude with those who came to their aid Nov. 5 on Interstate 94 after Giesbrecht suffered cardiac arrest, a sudden, unexpected loss of heart function, breathing and consciousness.
Dunn County Sheriff’s deputies, a Wisconsin State Patrol trooper and crew members from the Mayo One medical helicopter filled Giesbrecht’s hospital room to share get-well wishes.
Eau Claire cousins Sara Berg and Lisa Meier came with a care package and a message: “We’re so happy to see you again,” said Berg, with a hug.
On Nov. 5, Berg and Meier were stranded on I-94 between Eau Claire and Menomonie when the Giesbrechts stopped to help them fix their flat tire. Berg recalled Victor Giesbrecht telling her: “Someone up above put me in the right place at the right time.”
Minutes later, Berg and Meier repaid the favor.
Shortly after the Giesbrechts had pulled back on to the road, Victor Giesbrecht told his wife he needed help and then he became unconscious. From the passenger seat, Ann Giesbrecht brought the truck to a stop.
“He could have died,” Ann Giesbrecht said. “I’m so glad he’s still here.”
Berg and Meier then saw the Giesbrechts’ truck on the shoulder and Ann Giesbrecht waving her arms. They pulled over and ran to the Giesbrechts vehicle to find Victor Giesbrecht with no pulse and not breathing.
Berg, a certified nursing assistant with Mayo Clinic Health System – Home Health & Hospice, began CPR. Meier talked with 911 dispatch.
Next on the scene was State Trooper Kate Sampson, who helped Berg perform CPR. Dunn County Sheriff’s deputy Scott Pace and reserve deputy Michael Sinclair soon arrived with an automatic external defibrillator, which helps
restore normal heart rhythm after cardiac arrest. Sampson and Sinclair pulled Giesbrecht out of the vehicle while Pace set up the AED. After three separate shocks, Giesbrecht started breathing.
Mayo One landed on I-94 and transported Victor to Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire.
“We only did what we are trained to do as part of our job,” said Brian Murley, flight nurse with Mayo One. “The real heroes who went above and beyond are Sara and Lisa and the law enforcement officers.”
Mayo One pilot Kim Randall, a contract employee from Air Methods Corp., agreed.
“Landing on the interstate for this patient reflects our annual training with law enforcement, ambulance services, fire departments and other first responders that we do annually,” Randall said. “These folks are an integral part of what we do by understanding what is required to land safely and keep the area safe for patients, our crew and other motorists.”
About 400,000 people in the United States suffer from sudden cardiac arrest a year, said Regis Fernandes, M.D., Giesbrecht’s cardiologist at Mayo Clinic Health System. The survival rate for someone who suffers cardiac arrest out of the hospital is 1 to 6 percent, Fernandes said. With CPR, that increases to 15 percent.
“All of the pieces — early CPR, followed by AED and rapid transport to the hospital — came together to help this patient have a good outcome,” Dr. Fernandes said. “(Giesbrecht and Berg) helped each other, but their story can help save more people by increasing awareness of the importance of CPR and AEDs.”
Already, people have told Berg they are going to take CPR training, she said. Berg has used CPR one other time to help a woman at Borders in Eau Claire. “I think everybody should do more good deeds — big or small,” she said.
Giesbrecht said he doesn’t remember anything after seeing Berg and Meier on the side of the road. For survivors of cardiac arrest, some memory loss is common. But the use of therapeutic hypothermia in the hospital helped preserve Giesbrecht’s brain function, Dr. Fernandes noted. In therapeutic cooling, a patient’s body temperature is cooled to 33 degrees Celsius following resuscitation from cardiac arrest. It slows the brain’s metabolism and protects the brain against damage initiated by the lack of blood flow and oxygenation from the cardiac arrest.
After he was stable for several days in the hospital, Giesbrecht also had angioplasty and a stent placed to open a blocked coronary artery. An implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) was implanted near Giesbrecht’s collarbone with electrode-tipped wires running through veins to his heart. If the ICD detects a rhythm that’s too slow, it paces the heart as a pacemaker would. If it detects a dangerous heart rhythm change, it sends shocks to reset the heart to a normal rhythm.
Giesbrecht’s story — of a Good Samaritan helped by the people he aided — has made headlines in the U.S. and Canada. “It’s overwhelming. We hadn’t sought the attention; that’s not what we did it for,” said Giesbrecht who has helped other stranded motorists in the past. “I’m just a guy who helped a lady fix a flat tire so she could be on her way.”
Giesbrecht plans to be released from the hospital on Thursday, Nov. 17.
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Mayo Clinic Health System consists of Mayo-owned clinics, hospitals and other health care facilities that serve the health care needs of people in 70 communities in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The community-based providers, paired with the resources and expertise of Mayo Clinic, enable patients in the region to receive the highest-quality health care close to home.