Larry Hulscher South Dakota
Three nurses who work as a team at Avera Gregory Hospital never dreamed they would team up with first responders to save a life on the sidelines of a high school football field, nearly 250 miles away from home.
Yet that’s exactly what happened on the rainy night of Saturday, Nov. 3, in White, S.D., as Gregory played Deubrook High School in the state playoffs. Marta Haines, RN, was seated at the top of the bleachers on the Gregory side, watching her grandson play. Sarah Sperl, RN, was watching her nephew play from her parents’ car parked alongside the field, and Carla Warnke, RN, was also in the stands watching her son.
Larry Hulscher, superintendent of schools and football coach at Wilmot, S.D., had come to the game with his high-school age son, Austin. “It was just by chance that we were there,” Hulscher said. Avid followers of high school football, he and Austin had talked about going to a playoff game at Warner or Clark, and Austin came up with the idea to go to Deubrook, because it was supposed to be one of the best games.
The game began at 4 p.m. “It was packed – there were people all over, and it was tough to see,” Hulscher said. During the third quarter, he was standing on the bumper of a pickup parked alongside the field to get a better view. Around 6 p.m., Hulscher was checking his phone when he suddenly fell over into the pickup bed. Had the Hulschers chosen to go to another game with a 7 p.m. start, they could have easily been on the road when it occurred.
Seconds after Hulscher fell, Haines heard people calling for her, and she rushed to the scene, as did Carla Warnke. Another nurse from the Gregory area, Lisa Mickelson, had checked for a pulse and found one initially, so she thought it was perhaps a diabetic reaction or seizure. Haines questioned Austin, who answered that his dad had no such history, and Hulscher remained unresponsive. Haines then checked for a pulse, and there was none. Carla Warnke began chest compressions. Her husband, Vic Warnke, a local EMT in Gregory, also came to the scene to assist.
Sperl arrived, as did the White ambulance. Sperl began handing Haines airway supplies from the ambulance, and then was literally “launched” up into the pickup bed by Haines.
The ambulance crew rushed over with the automatic external defibrillator (AED). As soon as it was hooked up to Hulscher, Haines analyzed the reading and determined that he was in ventricular fibrillation, in that his heart was just fluttering and not beating sufficiently to supply the body or brain with circulation. The ambulance crew then shocked the heart to try to resume a normal rhythm. The Warnkes and Sperl continued to take turns doing CPR as Haines watched the AED and facilitated any additional needs. Hulscher was shocked four times in the soaking rain in the back of the pickup in the few minutes before the ambulance crew loaded him on a stretcher and into the ambulance, where they took over CPR and started an IV. “It seemed like forever, but it was probably not more than about five minutes,” Haines said.
The ambulance headed toward Brookings, and was met halfway by the Brookings ambulance. That crew got in the White ambulance with a fresh AED, as the White AED was nearly out of power. Already in the air, the Avera McKennan Careflight helicopter from Sioux Falls soon arrived in Brookings. After he was stabilized, Hulscher was flown to the Avera Heart Hospital of South Dakota in Sioux Falls.
“Afterward, as we were cleaning up, we just hoped that he made it,” Haines said.
Within a day or so, the Gregory nurses heard that Hulscher was alive at the Avera Heart Hospital, and within a few days, they heard the welcome news that he was well enough to go home. “The following week, he called us,” Haines said. Hulscher said he heard that the nurses who helped him were from Gregory, and he tracked them down by calling the hospital.
Along with sharing his thanks and appreciation, Hulscher wanted to hear exactly what had happened, as he did not remember anything. “He was so thankful… I was in tears, and he was in tears,” Haines said.
“It was very awesome to be able to talk to him and put a person with what we had done. Our sons were the same age,” Carla Warnke said. “We’re just thankful he pulled through, and we were there to help,” Sperl added.
The teamwork at Gregory easily transferred to the site of the football game. “We had run codes before, working together at the hospital, and so it just flowed. We all knew that if one person was doing one thing, that others needed to be doing other tasks,” Sperl said. The nurses also appreciated Barb Singleman, who had her arm around Austin at the scene.
Hulscher was told that his heart condition was electrical in nature, rather than being related to a blockage in the arteries. To even survive, he would have needed defibrillation within six minutes, and brain damage would have started to occur four minutes after loss of circulation. In all, Hulscher was shocked at least 13 to 14 times to save his life. “My doctors told me that a person with the same condition as mine would have a 3 percent chance of walking out of the hospital, like I did,” Hulscher said.
“What amazed me was the expertise and precision in my care from start to finish. The nurses and Vic from Gregory were godsends,” Hulscher said. The White ambulance crew handled the case expertly until meeting with the Brookings ambulance, just when the White crew’s AED was close to losing power. “Everything happened at the right place and at the right time,” Hulscher said. “After I arrived at the Avera Heart Hospital, I received what I would call the best treatment a guy could have.”
“My very survival is as close to a miracle as I can think of happening. From start to finish, no one dropped the ball, and that’s what needed to happen for me to be alive today,” Hulscher added.
“This couldn’t have gone any better outside of a hospital setting. Everything was there that we needed,” Sperl said. “It was a miracle – God was with us the entire time,” Haines added.