While Gilley Pool is months from opening for the season, head lifeguard Brian Myers is still doing what he is trained to do. He recently saved a life.
“Everything happened so fast,” Myers said. “I keep expecting to wake up and discover it was all just a horrible nightmare, that it really didn’t happen. You never expect to be studying one minute and then seeing someone’s life fade away right before your eyes.”
The incident occurred Tuesday at East Tennessee State University. At approximately 3 p.m., a woman stepped out of a third-floor elevator into the school’s library/ multi-media area, and collapsed.
Myers, a 2007 graduate of Warren County High School who is currently attending the university in Johnson City, was working on a finals project with a fellow student in the multi-media area.
“I couldn’t see what happened, but I heard someone scream,” said Myers. “Then, the custodian yelled for someone to call 911 that someone had fainted. I grabbed my mouth-to-mouth resuscitation mask and went to help.”
Lifeguards are trained first-responders. Myers has been a lifeguard at Gilley Pool for the past six summers. Trainees are given a mouth-to-mouth resuscitation mask which allows an individual the ability to offer breathing assistance without coming into physical contact with the victim.
“I carry mine with me everywhere I go,” Myers said. “When someone says an individual is unconscious, it could be more serious than that. They may not be breathing. I grabbed it out of my backpack and just went.”
Such was the case with this person. Myers says he quickly assessed the situation: A woman, approximately 60-65 years old, was unresponsive with a faint heartbeat that was fading, but no signs of breathing.
Myers began breathing for the individual, while a nursing student started compression.
“After a cycle of breathing and compression, we checked for a pulse,” he said. “There was nothing and she still wasn’t breathing. The nursing student grabbed an AED off the wall.”
An AED (automated external defibrillator) is a portable electronic device that automatically diagnoses the potentially life-threatening cardiac event. It treats with defibrillation the application of an electrical shock to restart the heart.
At that time, another student, also a first-responder, stepped off the elevator and began helping with compression. The first nursing student prepared to use the AED.
“We tried it and nothing,” said Myers. “We worked another cycle of breaths and compression while the AED recharged. We were about to shock her again when EMS showed up.”
First-responders generally step aside when emergency medical technicians come onto the scene unless their assistance is requested.
“I was prepared to step aside as I was trained to do,” said Myers. “EMS said shock her. We did. There were people screaming, girls were crying and a large crowd was gathering. I think we shocked her three times altogether. Everything happened so quickly.”
Myers was instructed to continue breathing for the woman until technicians could get her connected to oxygen.
“Then, I held the IV bag as an EMS worker delivered oxygen to her,” Myers said. “They strapped her to a back board and put her on the gurney. She was breathing and had a pulse before they left the library.”
Myers says the situation took approximately 10 minutes — about five minutes before EMS arrived and five minutes after.
“It was only about 10 minutes, but it felt like an eternity,” he said. “It was very scary. It seemed like her life was fading right before our eyes and we were struggling to stop it. I could hear people yelling and girls screaming. Everyone was emotional.”
Once the individual, whose name is being withheld, was taken from the third floor, Myers tried to resume his studies.
“I tried to go back to my project, but I just couldn’t focus,” Myers said. “It took an emotional toll on me. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Maybe I will wake up one morning and find it was all just a nightmare.”
While Myers struggles emotionally with the situation, he hopes his actions prevented a tragedy that would have destroyed one family’s Christmas.
“It is really close to Christmas,” Myers said. “I keep reminding myself at least she will get to go home and spend Christmas with family and friends. The dean said she would keep me posted on the woman’s condition.”
Jean Culp Flanigan, professor and interim dean of the library, expressed her gratitude for his actions in an e-mail and shared with him that fate may have brought them together.
“She actually got off on the wrong floor, as she planned to attend an event on the fourth floor,” Flanigan said. “Had she come up here, I don’t think we would have had such knowledgeable people to help her. Thanks for being where you were.”
Flanigan also sent a letter to Christopher A. Ayres, associate professor at ETSU, informing him of the situation.
“I know your department will want to recognize Brian’s quick response and his capable professional skills to save a woman’s life,” she said. “As one of my staff said, the woman was in the right place to have her attack.”
Myers takes none of the credit for his actions. Instead, he attributes it to his training as a lifeguard by McMinnville Civic Center Aquatics and Wellness manager Justin Scott.
“I have to give credit to the Civic Center for providing the classes,” he said. “If I had not been certified, I would not have the ability to save her. Justin is a great teacher and lifeguard instructor. He goes in depth and makes sure we know what we are doing.”
Scott says over this last summer, two incidents occurred at the Gilley Pool with Myers in attendance.
“He didn’t hesitate either time,” Scott said. “When I heard about what happened, I was shocked at the situation, but not surprised by Brian’s actions. He knows what he is doing. He takes his training seriously. I’m very proud of him.”