Atrium Health Carolinas Medical Center’s emergency medicine team is used to tackling anything and everything that comes their way in the emergency department. And three of them were just as good at thinking on their feet when an unexpected emergency arose outside of the hospital.

News | 5 months ago

In the Hospital or Out in the Community, Emergency Medicine Doctors are Everyday Heroes

Atrium Health Carolinas Medical Center’s emergency medicine team is used to tackling anything and everything that comes their way in the emergency department. And three of them were just as good at thinking on their feet when an unexpected emergency arose outside of the hospital.

When Bryant Allen, MD, associate professor of emergency medicine and assistant residency program director of the emergency medicine residency training program, Douglas Maslowski, MD, emergency medicine resident, and Nathanael Franks, MD, emergency medicine resident, walk into the Emergency Department at Atrium Health Carolinas Medical Center (the only Level 1 trauma center in the region), they’re prepared for any scenario. 

“I chose this career path for the excitement and the ability to help make a difference in the first 10 minutes of seeing a patient,” says Dr. Maslowski. Dr. Allen agrees, adding “It's so exciting. No two shifts are the same. When someone urgently needs a doctor, we're the kind of doctor that they're looking for.” According to Dr. Franks, “If you're working in the emergency department, people come in with any and every problem possible.”

Although the three of them didn’t think they’d encounter an emergency medical situation outside of the emergency department, that’s exactly what happened. 

In and out of the hospital, unexpected situations occur

Dr. Allen, Dr. Maslowski, and Dr. Franks are all avid outdoorsmen who enjoy activities like hiking and boating. So when Dr. Allen saw a flyer at the Whitewater Center in Charlotte for a boat race, he thought it might be fun to have some of the emergency department residents put together a team to enter.

The three doctors were having a great time “navigating our homemade boat all the way to the bottom of the rapids, without flipping over or wrecking the boat,” says Dr. Allen. During the race, announcers were broadcasting facts about race participants, and mentioned that the trio were all emergency medicine physicians.

Just as the race was finishing and the group was posing for some photos, a man ran over and said he’d heard that they were doctors and he needed their help. The three emergency room physicians didn’t hesitate to jump in and offer their assistance.

A call to action

Dr. Allen, Dr. Maslowski, and Dr. Franks ran over to where a man was lying on the ground, unresponsive. Fortunately, a team of people had quickly assembled to provide assistance – including a nurse who was nearby. She had already started performing CPR on the man, who was undergoing a cardiac arrest. According to Dr. Allen, “We tried to assess his heart rhythm. I took my smartwatch off and strapped it on his wrist to try and see if we could get something there. We searched his wallet; Dr. Maslowski figured out the patient was diabetic from the medication list in the wallet and applied glucose gel to his gums.” Paramedics arrived on scene and were able to obtain an ECG and secure the patient for transport. Soon, the man regained consciousness and was able to talk. “It was totally different than the blue, pulseless man who had just been there a few minutes beforehand,” says Dr. Allen.

The man, Bob Lazarus, was later transferred to Atrium Health Carolinas Medical Center, where he underwent a cardiac catheterization. Today, Bob has made a full recovery and is doing well. He starts cardiac rehabilitation at Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute next week and is looking forward to continued progress in his recovery.

Quick thinking saves the day

Bob was fortunate to have so many people around him who remained calm and acted quickly, including several members of his family who were there that day. His grandson was with him when he passed out and was able to catch Bob and lower him to the ground before summoning the emergency medical teams who were instrumental in saving his life.

The three emergency department doctors pointed out that it’s fairly unusual for one doctor, let alone three specifically trained in emergency medicine, to happen to be on the scene of an emergency medical event outside of the hospital (although Dr. Franks had also recently had the experience of coming across an unconscious man while hiking, shortly after graduating from medical school).  

“There happened to be a nurse at the boat race, and she knew how to perform CPR and she did it quickly. The first responders were able to start defibrillation – these things can really be successful in a cardiac arrest situation that isn’t occurring in the hospital,” says Dr. Allen. Dr. Maslowski agrees, saying, “The bystanders who acted quickly are the ones who really saved Bob’s life, because we wouldn't have been able to get to him within the first 5-10 minutes of this occurring. Because people stepped in, knowing what to do by performing quality CPR and using a defibrillator, that's why he is still here today.”

“If it weren’t for them, I would be dead,” says Bob. “I am so appreciative of the medical team who jumped in to help that day. Even once I was in the hospital, the nurses were such angels and I can’t say enough good things about them.”

What to do in an emergency

If you encounter someone who seems to be having a cardiac event or other serious issue, there are some steps you can take to help the person, even if you don’t have medical training. “If a person is unresponsive and they're on the ground with no pulse, technically speaking, they're already dead. So you can't really make it worse. Give them the best chance to survive by helping in any way you can,” advises Dr. Franks. 

Tips for helping in a medical emergency include:

  • Never put yourself in a scenario where you’re unsafe, but if it’s safe for you to help someone, try to do so and remain calm.
  • Call for help immediately – call 911 if you have a phone with you and are in an area with cell phone service; otherwise, yell as loudly as you can to summon assistance.
  • Check if the person is breathing or has a pulse.
  • Try to get the person to respond to you by any means necessary. If they’re responsive, try to keep them calm and comfortable until help arrives.
  • See if there is a first aid kit anywhere nearby.
  • If the person is unresponsive, start CPR. Even if you don’t have CPR training, you can still try to give chest compressions (try doing it to the beat of the song “Stayin’ Alive” for the right rhythm) until help arrives.

As part of a community initiative, Atrium Health teamed up with Mecklenburg County, MEDIC and Novant Health to offer CPR trainings and a life-saving phone app, PulsePoint. Learn more about how you can save a life.