As firefighter Isabella Fritz approached Charles and Becky Allen outside the Carroll County Emergency 911 center one morning, Charles Allen pointed at her.
“I remember this one,” he told his wife of 57 years. “She’s the one who jumped up in bed with you, trying to get you in the floor.”
The first time Fritz met Becky Allen, Becky was unresponsive. Fritz and her other responding Carroll County Fire Rescue
colleague, Firefighter II David Scruggs, could tell they had a dire situation on their hands.
“She was lying flat in her bed,” said Scruggs. “She was not breathing and she was pulseless. The skin on the top half of her body was turning blue.”
As for Becky Allen, the last thing she remembers is Charles standing next to her, the phone in his hand.
“He told me, ‘OK, I’m about to dial 911 — are you sure?’” she said.
“I knew she’d never let me call 911 unless it was serious,” Charles Allen said. (Indeed, she later confided that she was so modest that she’d ask ambulance personnel not to run the siren so as not to call attention to herself.)
When Charles Allen called 911 the first time
, he was connected with dispatcher Lacie Lambert, who’d been on the job more than a year. At the time, Becky Allen was awake and alert, but knew something was wrong. Lambert asked Charles Allen to make sure the porch lights on the front of the house were on and door was unlocked. She asked more questions to get information for the first responders her colleague, five-year 911 veteran Stephanie Whitlow, had already dispatched.
Charles Allen stood outside for a few minutes, waiting for the ambulance. When he went back inside to see how his wife was doing, he found her unresponsive and dialed 911 again.
“He got me the second time,” said Melissa Smith, who’s been with Carroll County 911 for 17 years. She tried to walk Charles Allen through what needed to be done. “He was upset because he couldn’t get her on the floor.”
Seeing things go from bad to worse is nothing new for 911 dispatchers, who celebrated National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week April 9 to April 15. “You never know what you’re going to get when you answer a call,” said Smith. “Sometimes they have a stubbed toe, sometimes they have a gunshot wound.”
Back at their home off Tyus Road near Carrollton, Charles Allen was pacing the floor (“losing my mind,” according to him) while Fritz and Scruggs worked. They started CPR and tried to start high-flow oxygen to push fresh air into Becky Allen’s lungs, but it wasn’t working. They struggled to get a breathing tube down Becky Allen’s throat — a struggle that would persist on the ambulance and all the way to the hospital.
“We got a pulse back for a second, but her heart stopped again so we resumed CPR,” Fritz said.
Then the calvary arrived: EMT Sydney Chafin and paramedic Bailey Morgan, each four years into their service with West Georgia Ambulance
“The call came out as difficulty breathing,” said Morgan. “Then we heard Carroll County Fire Rescue had called a ‘full arrest.’”
Full arrest, Scruggs explained, is basically “if you can come, do.”
West Georgia Ambulance was already en route, and arrived at the Allen home before Carroll County Fire Rescue were even able to get Becky Allen hooked up to an automated external defibrillator (AED) — a device that monitors heart rhythms and can administer shocks to restart someone’s heart.
The situation was bad enough that firefighter Fritz joined paramedic Morgan in the back of the ambulance for the ride to Tanner Medical Center/Carrollton. Administering CPR in the back of an ambulance trying to make time to a hospital is, as one can imagine, not a lot of fun. “You get slung around — a lot,” Fritz said.
In the ambulance, Morgan and Fritz were able to restart a pulse. Chafin, who was driving, remembers Becky Allen looking up at her.
“I could tell she was conscious. I just talked to her and tried to keep her calm,” said Chafin. “That part was super memorable to me — for the first time since this started, I could tell she was … there.”
The responders on the ambulance continued their work, radioing ahead to the hospital with any slight change in Becky Allen’s condition as her husband followed behind them. He called his son in Rome, and he and his wife raced down to Carrollton as well.
At the hospital, the exhausted personnel on the ambulance handed Becky Allen off to the waiting emergency department team. When the doctor spoke to the family a short time later, he told them her heart had stopped at least three times that evening.
The emergency department staff also complimented the responders for successfully getting a tube down Becky Allen’s throat to breathe for her — a condition called an anterior trachea made it hard even for the hospital staff to intubate her.
“I just want you to know,” Charles Allen said, “that she has about $9 million in dental work in her mouth, and y’all didn’t even damage a bridge.”
Four days in ICU and about a week in the hospital total, and Becky Allen is on the mend. She said, throughout the experience that evening, she never had pain. Her heart sustained no damage, and the only blockage they could find was a small 20% blockage at the tip of her heart.
The diagnosis: sudden cardiac arrest. The only likely cause that doctors could figure: atrial fibrillation, or AFib — an irregular heart rhythm that increases the risk of cardiac arrest.
Weeks later, the Allens were encircled by all the people in the field who saved Becky Allen’s life — the Carroll County Fire Rescue staff who were the first on the scene, the West Georgia Ambulance staff who took over and handled transport to the hospital, and the Carroll County Emergency 911 dispatchers who coordinated the response — seven well-trained individuals working shoulder-to-shoulder to save a life in the Carroll County night.
For all of that, Becky Allen said she felt little discomfort in her chest despite the CPR compressions. She had little discomfort in her throat and had no broken ribs — a possible consequence of chest compressions.
The only thing she’s sore about is that they cut apart her favorite sleep shirt.
“It was a miracle,” she said, standing around the dispatchers, Carroll County Fire Rescue staff and West Georgia Ambulance medics that worked on her that night. “We praise God for this. I know I shouldn’t be here — but I am. I am because of you.”