HCN News & Notes

AIC Nursing Student Saves Dad’s Life with Prompt CPR

SPRINGFIELD — Life changed dramatically for American International College (AIC) nursing student Bonnie Shallbetter and her father, John Shallbetter, on April 25.

Arriving home late that evening, Shallbetter responded to her mother Mary’s urgent call for help. She raced upstairs to find her father unconscious and unresponsive in his recliner. He presented with an agonal breathing pattern.

That’s when her training kicked in. Shallbetter performed a sternal rub (a medical intervention test for consciousness) to try and bring her dad around. He regained consciousness briefly, allowing her time to call 911. “Bonnie, I was just sleeping,” he replied, but within seconds he tensed up and turned purple.

While Shallbetter knew that CPR is best done with the patient on the floor, at 112 pounds she found it impossible to move her 6-foot, 2-inch, 240-pound father even with her mother’s assistance. Unable to find a pulse, she began chest compressions in the recliner. Shallbetter could hear the voice of AIC Learning Laboratory Coordinator Dina Ditmar in her head saying, “lock your arms. Use your body.” She recalled instructors saying there’s “no time to get upset. Just keep going.” Shallbetter performed three rounds of CPR while waiting for the ambulance, which arrived within minutes.

Once paramedics arrived, Shallbetter stayed at her father’s head to ensure his airway remained open. Defibrillated eight times, paramedics ultimately got a regular heartbeat, but he remained unconscious. “All I could do was say, ‘Daddy, I’m here. Stay with me,’” Shallbetter said.

Once at the hospital, her father was wheeled away. “The situation was now out of my control, which was the hardest part,” she recalled. “I call my dad Superman. He’s a big dude, muscular. He’s always outside doing yardwork and building stuff. He’s never sick.”

Fortunately, doctors assured Shallbetter that the CPR administered within the first three minutes of his heart attack was critical to saving her father’s life. Without early intervention, getting her dad back might not have been a possibility.

A cardiac catheter revealed four blockages. Later that week, he received bypass surgery. Following his hospital recovery and a brief stay in cardiac rehab, he went home within just two weeks.

“This experience confirmed this is what I am supposed to be doing,” Shallbetter said, crediting her medical-surgical rotation in the 2014 fall semester with helping put her classroom experience to real-life use. She envisions a career in the pediatric intensive care unit, anticipating the work to be intense but rewarding.

“My dad has been my rock through nursing school,” she added. “That Saturday night, I bolted out of the house without saying anything. Now, I can’t leave the house without saying ‘I love you.’”