JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska – His eyes were lifeless and empty, staring up at her from the gym floor. She could hear his ribs cracking with each compression, but she knew she couldn't stop.
If she stopped, those eyes would never see life again.
"That was the worst part," said Army Spc. Kayla Richie, a combat medic with U.S. Army Alaska’s 2nd Engineer Brigade here.
"It was a Wednesday, just a regular day I guess," said Richie said. "I was just going for a quick workout. I couldn't stay long, because I had a Bible study to go to."
But Sept. 17 turned out to be anything but ordinary.
"I think I was using the ropes, and a gym attendant came up to talk to me," she recounted. "I figured someone had rolled their ankle or something. They know I'm a medic, and whenever someone gets hurt, they will occasionally ask me to check it out."
Richie never expected what was about to happen next. Amber Fraley, a recreation assistant at Buckner Physical Fitness Center told Richie that someone apparently had passed out on the basketball court and didn’t seem to be breathing.
Responding to the Scene
Richie ran to the court and saw the player sprawled on the court. Fraley already was on the phone with a 911 diospatcher.
"You could tell he passed out," Richie said. "You could tell by how his body was laid out. A lot of times, when someone is passed out, they will do quick, shallow breaths as their body tries to get oxygen back to their brain. He wasn't even doing that."
Richie pushed through the crowd around the fallen player and was quickly at his side. "I rolled him over to check for breathing," she said. "He wasn't. I couldn't find a pulse. I thought it might be because my hands were shaking and my adrenaline was going, so I took a breath and tried again."
Richie said she told the nearest bystander to go find an automatic external defibrillator, and then another man appeared - a man Richie wouldn't identify until the next day.
Colonel Joins the Effort
"I know CPR too," said Army Col. Scott Green, who is scheduled to be the next commander of the 25th Infantry Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team.
Richie went to the patient's left side, and the colonel took position at his head to position him for rescue breathing. If his head was angled too far, Green could risk blowing air into his stomach instead of his lungs.
Richie put her hands on the basketball player’s gray, quickly cooling skin, and began the first set of compressions"I could hear his ribs crunching," Richie said. "I don't know if I broke them, but I had to keep going, you know?"
Green leaned down to begin rescue breathing after the 20th compression, but Richie knew the recommended number of compressions before beginning rescue breathing had changed. "No! It's 30 now!" Richie said as she continued compressions.
Still No Vital Signs
When Richie finished the 30th compression, Green gave two rescue breaths. While he did this, Richie frantically ripped off the weight gloves she still had on from working out. They checked the player’s vital signs. There were none, so they started over.
"I was so scared I was shaking," Richie recalled. "I just kept thinking and praying, 'Oh God, please let this guy come back.' But it just didn't look good."
Toward the end of the second set of compressions, Fraley came running onto the scene with an automatic external defibrillator. Several people ran to help get the packaged device unwrapped and ready for use.
"One gentleman was pulling the pads out while someone else positioned the unit," said Chad Personius, a lifeguard at the fitness center. "I grabbed the pads and started applying them."
Personius positioned himself on the patient's right side and applied the pads as Richie continued compressions. The automated system already was attempting to analyze the patient's vital signs before all the pads could even be applied.
‘Analysis Complete, Shock Advised’
"Analyzing, do not touch the patient," the primitive male robot voice from the AED said.
"We had to stop, step back and wait for it to do its thing," Richie said, remembering the anxiety of the moment.
Finally, the AED said, "Analysis complete, shock advised."
"Everyone get back!" Richie commanded. "Nobody touch him!"
Personius and Fraley began pushing the crowd back, a friend let go of the man's hand, and the button with the orange lightning bolt on the AED began to flash. Personius pushed it.
"On TV you see them twitch, but this was different," Richie said with a disturbed shudder. "His whole body … jumped. At this point, I'm trying not to cry, because nobody wants to see the one person they think knows what they're doing break down, you know?"
The shock was over in a heartbeat, but there was still no pulse.
While the AED charged, they began the third set of compressions.
The patient's neck strained, tendons bulging against the skin and a sucking sound came from his throat.
"He's trying to breathe! Let's keep going!" Richie exclaimed.
The patient was making short, gurgling breath sounds Richie said. "But he wasn't really breathing,” the Mililani, Hawaii, native added. “There was no exhale. I never heard air come out."
Emergency Personnel Arrive
The AED was nearly recharged, and emergency personnel came rushing in with their equipment. "Just keep going until we're set up," they said.
Finally, the AED was ready to analyze again and they stopped compressions to let it do so.
The unique robotic voice said, "No shock advised."
"That's good," Richie said. "That means it's detecting vitals."
As the analysis completed, the emergency personnel took over and began to put intravenous fluids into the fallen player.
"As soon as they put the IVs in, he jumped awake, trying to fight them off," Richie said. "All I could think was, 'Oh thank God. Thank God.'"
Richie received the Army Achievement Medal for her instrumental role in saving the man's life. Richie didn't know that was coming until attending the state-of-the-brigade address. Her noncommissioned officer, Army Staff Sgt. Kelee Williams -- also a combat medic with U.S. Army Alaska’s 2nd Engineer Brigade -- asked her, "So what's up with your award?"
"What award?" Richie responded. Then she was called to the front.
"I was trying not to blush, I was so embarrassed," Richie said with a laugh. "I just wanted to tiptoe into the shadows."
Before she had time to think, she heard the command, "Attention to orders!"
Army Lt. Col. Kirt Boston, the rear detachment commander for the 2nd Engineer Brigade and the rear detachment's command sergeant major, Army Command Sgt. Major Bryan Lynch, presented the medal to her.
Tried to Remain Anonymous
Richie said she tried very hard to get away with saving this person's life anonymously. "I didn't tell anybody," Richie said. "My NCO didn't even know. I didn't want them to do all this stuff."
Green praised Richie’s handling of the incident.
"I was very impressed with her medical and technical knowledge," the colonel said. "She was very calm and collected. It seemed like just another day for her."