(From left) Firefighter/paramedic Mike Donato, Elizabeth Wesley and firefighter/paramedic Kevin Leverence. | Courtesy of Anne Wesley
Updated: March 18, 2014 6:07AM
Just before 3 p.m. this past Christmas Eve, a life-changing event was starting to unfold for 49-year-old Elizabeth Wesley. In approximately 40 minutes, she would almost die.
The Wesley household was filled with family that was over for the holidays, and everything was festive except for one thing. Elizabeth was not feeling well. Like most people when they are feeling ill, she did not want to make a big deal of it.
With her husband Bill by her side, they spoke in private, where she told him not to call 911. She then retreated upstairs to go lay down, however, before making it there she became sick. Shrugging it off, she once again went to lie down, only to find herself rushing back to the bathroom and again became sick.
Soon her daughter and sister-in-law became concerned and went upstairs to see if they could help. Elizabeth started to realize that something bigger was going on and asked her husband to call 911. About 10 minutes had passed since she started feeling ill.
At 3:05 p.m. the alert tones went off at Fire Station 8 for an ambulance request for a female not feeling well. Medic 8 responded with Paramedics Kevin Leverence and Mike Donato, who arrived on scene in just under five minutes. Quickly, they went to work assessing and treating Elizabeth.
Leverence said that “the initial impression we made and treatment path we took was symptomatic hyperglycemia. We did obtain a 12-lead EKG to rule out cardiac involvement.”
At that time there was no definitive indications that she was having a heart attack. The medics began transport to Rush-Copley Medical Center at 3:28 p.m. During the transport, Elizabeth’s condition changed, causing concern. Kevin and Mike stopped transport and obtained another 12-EKG, however, this time it indicated she was indeed having a heart attack.
Copley was contacted with the update on Elizabeth’s condition and they resumed transport. Unbeknownst to Elizabeth, her husband, and Kevin and Mike, her heart would stop shortly after arriving at the emergency room at 3:36 p.m.
Leverence said, “We delivered the patient conscious and breathing in an understandable amount of emotional distress. Mike and I took a few minutes to try calming the patient and reassuring her she was in a fantastic place. We had left the room and not even started our next task when the hospital operator announced code blue.”
Upon arrival to the hospital things started “moving really fast” Bill stated.
“Initially the paramedics had gotten Elizabeth from our house, into the ambulance, and the initial assessment was that she might be having a panic attack or had some flu-like symptoms, but there were no indications of a heart problem” he added. “It was a blur as people went in to treat her and then the two paramedics rushed back … and headed for the treatment room.”
With the hospital staff being extremely busy and caught off guard, Kevin and Mike jumped in and started chest compressions, freeing up the staff to start resuscitation efforts. The cardiologist was by Elizabeth’s side shortly after and took over patient care.
Without a doubt Elizabeth needed to have her coronary arteries opened in the cath lab, however, the problem was that a patient without a pulse does not qualify for that procedure. The family was brought in and a difficult conversation took place considering withdrawing of resuscitation efforts, a choice nobody wants to ever have to make for a loved one.
But, Elizabeth was not ready to give up. A change on the cardiac monitor gave hope and efforts continued. All the while Kevin and Mike were still doing CPR as Elizabeth was rushed to the cath lab, where her arteries were successfully opened.
In the end, Elizabeth had to be shocked approximately 41 times and Kevin and Mike did CPR for close to an hour. She was admitted to the ICU and made steady progress towards recovery each day. She was subsequently discharged home on New Year’s Day and is alive and well because of the efforts of Kevin, Mike, and the amazing staff at Copley. But, the biggest credit goes to Elizabeth for her will to survive.
This story is just one example of what goes on every day in the city of Aurora and usually without notice. After all, this is our job, to protect and save the lives of the citizens in the city of Aurora.
Lt. Jim Rhodes is assigned to Aurora Fire Department Engine 10 on the West Side and heads up Local 99’s Public Relations Committee. Contact him at email@example.com