The Good 5 Cent Cigar
By Michael Gagne
The ability to work as a team is vital for any group working to achieve a goal. For the volunteers that make up the University of Rhode Island Emergency Medical Services team this ability is what saves lives.
Last December, teamwork enabled URI EMS members and other students to save the life of a fellow Emergency Medical Technician.
On Dec. 14, a Saturday afternoon during finals week, Katie Weiss, a sophomore nursing student and URI EMT, suffered an epileptic seizure while taking a shower in her dorm, Hutchinson Hall.
As if by fate, Kristin Rodina, a senior from Ridge, N.Y., was in the stall next to Weiss. Rodina knew something was wrong when she saw Weiss's arm slide underneath the wall.
She was scared for her friend, and acted instinctively. "I don't even know what went through my head," Rodina said.
She pulled back Weiss's shower curtain, and saw Weiss lying on the floor, with her head against the wall. Rodina turned the shower off, and threw a towel over Weiss, shouting her name.
Rodina's sister and roommate, Teresa, heard the shouting, and ran to the shower. While Rodina stayed with Weiss, Teresa sought help from Frank Breau, an R.A. in the dorm. They dialed an ambulance and found Emily Paul, a freshman nursing major and EMT, who came down and immediately took control of the situation.
Weiss had turned blue, and stopped breathing. Paul immediately began talking to her friend, and finding that she was unresponsive, administered mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
"I didn't expect it to be as severe as it was," Paul said. "I just had to focus and let my instinct take over, and know that I've been trained well. I just had to go with what I knew... You can't hesitate at all."
Paul continued mouth-to-mouth resuscitation for about two minutes, before the EMS ambulance arrived. Driver Amy Swiencki, Vice-commander Shad Ahmed and Lt. Jeff Tagen responded to the call.
"The scene was very wonderfully controlled," Ahmed said. "[Paul] took control of it very well."
The students were shocked when they saw that one of their own members had a seizure. But, "you have to treat it like every other patient," Ahmed said.
They transported Weiss to South County Hospital, where the hospital's Intensive Care Unit staff took over her care.
Ahmed, Swiencki and Tagen were still on duty, and couldn't stay by their friend's side, but Paul stayed at the hospital for seven hours. She called Weiss's parents, who arrived early Sunday morning.
Doctors were unsure whether Weiss would survive, or fully recover. She lingered in a coma.
"Visiting her at the hospital was a very, very difficult thing to do," Paul said. "I was a nervous wreck."
Weiss finally regained consciousness after three days, and stayed at South County Hospital until Dec. 18, when she was transferred to Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx.
The seizure was the third she experienced. The last one occurred when she was in ninth grade, and the first one happened when she was in fourth grade.
Weiss, who has no recollection of the episode, believes she may have forgotten to take her medication. It was also triggered by the stress of having to study for final exams.
She remembers little of her recovery process, except for what her brother told her-that she "walked around like an old lady and babbled like Ozzy Osbourne."
Much to her friends' surprise, the 19-year-old returned to school in January fully recovered and exactly like she was before the episode.
"When she came back this semester, completely back to normal, it was amazing," Paul said. To her, Weiss's recovery was much like that of a family member's, as the whole EMS crew is "a big family."
Each of Weiss's rescuers was honored by a framed resolution from the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education, which was presented to them during last week's Rainville Leadership Awards banquet. The recognition came after Weiss's mother wrote a letter to URI President Robert L. Carothers, commending her peers' efforts on Dec. 14.
Weiss's peers didn't know about the resolution until it was presented, but she did. "I kind of knew all along," she said.