As long as he lives, Jon Smetana will remember four minutes on Harris Field—the longest four minutes of his life. He knelt over a runner who had collapsed, pressing down firmly, rapidly, in the center of the chest, just the way he’d been taught in CPR class two weeks before.
“It seemed like forever. In the heat of the moment, my heart was thumping.” Amid the yelling and the wail of approaching sirens, he kept up the rhythm until EMS workers arrived. Had he helped save a life? It would be days before anyone knew.
Surviving the Odds
Spencer Shell, on the other hand, can’t remember anything past 5:30 on the night of Sept. 2, when he chatted with his roommate before starting out for a run. Instead of heading for his usual isolated trails, he started down Dan Allen Drive. He popped in his earbuds but didn’t bother to carry his wallet or student ID.
He got about a mile from home.
Smetana, who was working the Students Today, Alumni Tomorrow event for Campus Recreation, saw Shell collapse and roll down a hill onto Harris Field. Within seconds, Robert Olson, who had been jogging nearby, pulled Shell up on level ground. Kate Gilbertson, another student employee with Campus Rec, raced over. They looked for obstructions in the airway, checked for pulse and breathing. Nothing. Shell’s face was purple.
Smetana began compressions, while Olson focused on rescue breathing. What were the odds that CPR-trained students would reach Shell within seconds? No one is sure. However, doctors told his family that only about 5 percent of people survive a cardiac collapse like Shell’s.
On Friday, NC State’s police department will honor the entire rescue team, from students to rescue workers, at a 1:30 p.m. reception in the Walnut Room of the Talley Student Center.
Shell, who spent 15 days in the hospital and received a defibrillator implant, has recovered rapidly. When he and Smetana had lunch last week, they talked for two hours, sharing their faith and their plans for the future.
“There’s definitely a light about him,” Smetana says. “He loves life. He knows that if something had been different he might not be here. It’s been fun to get to know him and see what he’s really like.”
Smetana is a proponent of the CPR training he once didn’t want to take. Campus Rec offers monthly CPR sessions. “I’m glad to be part of an organization that’s about people’s well-being.”
Next Friday, Campus Rec will host its fifth CPR Challenge, featuring adult and infant CPR certification. It’s named for Dale Sayers, a physics professor who was revived using CPR. Although Sayers ultimately did not survive, the extra time his family gained was precious. His daughter, Mary McLaurin, comes back each year for the CPR Challenge.
“CPR is a skill that could save someone’s life,” Smetana says. “It’s worth an afternoon of your time.”