Commentary

Saunders: Anonymous nurse was a superhero when man went into cardiac arrest

bsaunders@newsobserver.comApril 22, 2013 

Not all superheroes who defy death on city streets wear tights and a cape and soar through the air.

Some of them wear green hospital scrubs and get stuck in traffic.

The hero who helped save Robert Short’s life on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill earlier this month couldn’t have timed his appearance better had he been responding to the Bat Signal. Instead, what he was responding to with such alacrity were the screams of a 15-year-old girl who feared her daddy was dying.

Short, who works in I.T. for BB&T, said he remembers little about the day he almost checked out after going into cardiac arrest. He and his daughter, Corey, had been out for a run near the UNC campus, then got in the car and drove to Franklin Street. “She told me I said something about feeling dizzy,” Short said. “She knew how to reach over and turn off the car” after he lost consciousness.

Brenda Camp, Short’s girlfriend, said, “(Corey) got out of the car and yelled for help. A nurse, we assume he was a UNC nurse still in scrubs, was a couple of cars behind them and came over and pulled Robert out of the car and started administering CPR. ... It was just the perfect confluence of people being there, the equipment being there, the hospital knowing exactly what to do.”

‘Community jumping in’

The unheard-from-since nurse stayed on the scene until firefighters and an ambulance arrived, then split. He wasn’t the only person to perform heroically that day, Camp said. “Corey told me that there were three teenagers – she described them as ‘Carrboro hippies’ – who kept her on the other side of the car and comforted her and tried to be sure she was OK. Someone else moved the car and put a note on the windshield saying it was a medical emergency and ‘do not tow’.

“His car was still there, his laptop was still there” when she went to get it, Camp recalled, her voice filled with wonder. “Just a good sense of the community jumping in.”

What, I asked Short, would he say to his angel of mercy if he ever met him?

“How do you thank someone who saved your life?” he responded. “Basically, it took everybody to save my life – the firemen, the hospital staff – but if he hadn’t been there it wouldn’t have made any difference. The firemen would’ve gotten there and it would’ve probably been too late. He is really the one who made it all possible.”

No doubt. Short’s ticker reportedly stopped ticking for four minutes, Camp said, “but during most of that time the passerby was performing CPR” and keeping blood flowing.

‘Image of health’

The outlook was still grave at the hospital, Camp said. After Short’s body temperature was intentionally dropped to slow down the blood flow, she said, “They told me he might be in a coma for as long as three days. Literally 30 minutes after they told me that, he opened his eyes.”

In addition to the serendipitous appearance of the green-clad anonymous hero, Camp thinks Short’s level of fitness may also have helped save him. “He’s probably run about 12 marathons. ... He runs nearly every day. If you saw him, you’d think he was just the ideal image of health.”

Remember in 1997 when a referee in a UNC football game suffered a heart attack on the Kenan Stadium field? How many of you thought “Wow. If you’re going to have a heart attack, what better place to have it than in a stadium filled with doctors and mere minutes from a world-class university hospital?”

How about stuck in traffic two cars ahead of a superhero.

bsaunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

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