By Nancy Mahon
Finance and Business
Tom Schilling is a culinary worker at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel. Stop by some morning and you'll probably find him in the kitchen, finishing breakfast orders or preparing a dish for the lunch crowd. In fact, that's how the morning of Jan. 23 was shaping up for Schilling. But he was preparing a dish that called for heavy cream, and the kitchen was out of it. So Schilling headed up to get some out of the coolers by receiving, near the employee entrance to the building. And his morning took a change no one would have imagined.
The day also began as an average one for Denny Lucas, who works in maintenance at the hotel. After spending the morning making routine repairs, he was ready for his nine o'clock break. In fact, that break was nearly over when housekeeping utility employee Terry Confer came into the room.
"He looked pale," Lucas recalled. "Terry said he didn't feel well and had called his brother to pick him up. He went into the hallway to sit and wait for his ride."
Rick Veruete, who works in receiving, was talking with Schilling when the two men noticed Confer in the chair by the employees' entrance.
"A lot of people relax in those chairs," Veruete explained. "We thought he was just on break and had fallen asleep. But I thought he had to get back to work. And something didn't seem normal to me."
Schilling agreed. "We decided to go check on him, to see if he was all right. As soon as I saw him, I knew something was wrong. He wasn't breathing. He was blue. We got him on the floor and Rick went to call 911."
Schilling checked Confer's airway and tried to find a pulse; not finding one, he started CPR. Confer was 42 years old and in full cardiac arrest.
Veruete knew that an automatic external defibrillator (AED) was located on the main floor of the hotel. After calling 911, he raced upstairs to get the device. Lucas' break was ending as Veruete ran by, yelling for help. Lucas quickly joined Schilling's CPR efforts, giving Confer breaths while Schilling applied chest compressions. Neither man is sure how long they administered CPR before Polli McCartney arrived, running at full-speed from the hotel's front lobby on the next floor.
McCartney is the senior office manager for the Penn Stater. On Jan. 23 she was at her desk when front office employee Jeanne Ishler took a call from downstairs and then rushed into her office.
"They need you now with the defibrillator," Ishler told her. There are two AEDs located on different floors of the hotel. McCartney grabbed the device and took off running, activating the in-house alarm that automatically goes off when the AED is removed from its cabinet. The life-saving device weighs approximately three pounds and is roughly the size of a dictionary. It costs around $3,500.
When McCartney arrived, Schilling and Lucas had been giving Confer CPR for several minutes. She removed his shirt, attached two pads to his chest, and plugged the pads into the AED. McCartney had learned how to operate the machine last year when she participated in training provided by Penn State Police Services. She waited as the AED assessed Confer's life signs and then advised her to administer a shock.
"The machine tells you what to do," McCartney explained, "After the first shock, the guys started CPR again."
Ultimately, McCartney administered three electrical shocks to her co-worker before Confer's heart started pumping and he gasped for air. The ambulance crew arrived after Confer's heart received the third electrical shock.
"They hooked him up to their machine, put a tube in to aid breathing, and loaded him into the ambulance," McCartney recalled. "It probably was only 9:30 a.m."
Coincidentally, responding Penn State Police Services Officer John Torres had provided the CPR/AED training program (with Officer Brian Bittner) in which McCartney had participated at the Penn Stater.
Eight days later, Confer visited the Penn Stater to thank the co-workers who had saved him. He does not remember the heart attack that nearly ended his life, but Confer is grateful for the quick actions of his colleagues, the on-site AED, the ambulance and life-flight crews, and Hershey Medical Center staff.
"They lost me four different times," he commented, "but on Monday my Hershey doctor looked me over and asked, 'Feel like going home?'"
On Tuesday, Jan. 28, he returned to Centre County. Although still a little sore and weak from the ordeal, Confer looks forward to a full recovery and returning to his job. His doctors credit the swift actions of the Penn Stater staff for saving his life. So does Terry Confer.
Nancy Mahon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org