Shelley Lewis pumped Joe Bells chest roughly 1,500 times in 15 minutes. The two-inch-deep compressions cracked ribs, broke his sternum and punctured a lung.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
They also saved his life.
Bell, who builds upscale homes in Chicago, was visiting the Kansas City area on Oct. 20 to see family, including his daughter, St. James Academy volleyball coach Nancy Dorsey.
While here, he went to Blue Valley Southwest to watch her squad play for a berth in the Kansas state high school tournament.
At the tournaments awards ceremony, as state-bound teams from St. James and Bishop Miege accepted their trophies, Bell, 65, suffered massive cardiac arrest and collapsed to the balcony floor.
If not for the quick actions of Lewis and two other women in the crowd who didnt know one another but worked calmly and in concert, Bell probably would not be alive today. On two occasions that evening, Bell had no pulse and stopped breathing.
As the gymnasium full of spectators held its collective breath and prayed, the three women Lewis, Miege teacher Linda Ernst and St. Thomas Aquinas parent Sherrill Tokic worked feverishly to keep Bell alive until an ambulance arrived.
Once he was taken to intensive care at St. Lukes South Hospital, doctors told Bells family they were surprised he hadnt died. Only 5 percent of patients survive after receiving out-of-hospital, bystander CPR for as long as he did, they said.
Whats more, his neurologist says hes in the top 2 percent of outcomes with respect to brain function after such an ordeal.
Dorsey calls the events that played out on the balcony floor ringing Blue Valley Southwests gym a miracle.
I just told myself, This cannot happen not here, not today, not in front of these girls and his daughters, Lewis said. Everybody in that building was praying for him and willing him to live.
Lewis is the director of physical therapy at College Park Family Care. She and her husband, Tahaun whose twins Brie and Bristol play for St. James were preparing to host a team meal for 50 players and parents after the tournament.
Shed originally planned to leave immediately following the tournaments championship game, but ended up videotaping the match while Tahaun stayed home to grill bratwursts for the party.
Delayed several minutes to pack up her camera, Lewis was heading for the exit when she saw Bell on the ground.
I handed the camera to somebody I didnt even know, Lewis said. I didnt even ask her. I just shoved it at her, threw the rest of my stuff on the floor and dropped down to my knees, because I knew he was in trouble.
As Lewis checked for a pulse and didnt find one, St. James senior Emily Tripp led a huddled mass of students from her school, Miege and Aquinas in the rosary at midcourt.
When I got there, Lewis said, he was a color Id never seen a purple, dark-red purple, almost blackish color Ive never seen before.
On the hardwood floor below, cries rang out for assistance from anyone with medical training. Ernst and Tokic sprang into action.
Ernst, an assistant volleyball coach, is a certified CPR instructor who teaches the life-saving technique to her freshman physical education classes. Shed also trained Dorsey and the rest of the St. James faculty.
This little voice in my head kept telling me, They need the defibrillator, Ernst recalled.
She went to get the schools defibrillator. Meanwhile, Tokic, whose stepdaughter Megan had been promoted to the Aquinas varsity earlier in the week, raced up the stairs.
I handed my purse to my husband (David) and said, Ive got to go. This is my call of duty, said Tokic, who has been an operating-room nurse for 21 years and works at the University of Kansas Hospitals Indian Creek Campus.
Dorsey also bolted up the stairs, not yet realizing it was her fathers life that was slipping away.
We heard someone yell, Call 911, so I looked up where she was standing, Dorsey said. I guess I thought I could help somehow, so I took off running.
Upon reaching the top, Dorsey saw her father on the floor. By that time, Lewis was already performing rapid chest compressions. She was grateful to have Ernst and Tokic arrive for support.
Ernst took over counting and offered gentle instruction while Tokic monitored Bells pulse and let Lewis know blood was pumping.
Meanwhile, Dorsey and her sister, Jennifer Gile, held their fathers hands and urged him to hang in there.
Dont stop fighting, dad, Dorsey cried. Cooper needs his grandpa!
Dorseys husband, Bryan, arrived with scissors and cut off Bells shirt so the defibrillator pads could be adhered to his chest.
Ernst turned on the machine, leaned in so she could hear its commands, and ordered everyone clear.
But the device didnt revive Bell, whose color had improved as Lewis labored away but worsened rapidly when no electric shock was delivered.
Another try, same result. Why the defibrillator failed is unclear.
Waiting for the defibrillator, we were back to ground zero or even worse than before, Lewis said. I couldnt sit there and watch him die, so I started doing chest compressions again.
After what felt like an eternity to the women, the EMTs arrived and took over.
Tokic was asked to start an IV in the 15 minutes that first responders continued to work on Bell before taking him to the ambulance.
Bell remembers nothing of his near-death experience, but he spent the next 20 days in the hospital, battling pneumonia, among other things. He still faces a long road to recovery. He had stents inserted during his stay, is very sore and tires easily, and must have open-heart surgery in a year.
But hes happy to be alive. And theres a final twist to the story: Bell had originally planned to visit Kansas City the following week, hedging his bets that St. James would make it to the state tournament. But he changed his itinerary when Jennifer elected to have her 6-week-old son, Logan, baptized the previous weekend.
They are absolutely angels, Bell said of Lewis, Ernst and Tokic. Without them, I would not be here. If this happened at my house, a highway back home or a restaurant, I dont think wed be talking right now.
A week after her fathers collapse, Dorsey took her St. James team to Topeka as planned. Before they took the court for the championship match against Shawnee Heights, she received a text message saying Bell had been taken off a ventilator.
The text also included these words from her father: Good luck and I love you.
St. James went on to win its fifth straight state title.
I truly believe God had a hand in that day, Lewis said. Had he been driving or had he been alone, we wouldnt be having this conversation.
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.