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Elkhart nurses save woman’s life

Laura Holmberg, RN, BSN, left, and Robyn Gerencser, RN, BSN, work together in the operating room of Elkhart General Hospital.

Laura Holmberg and her best friend, Robyn Gerencser, decided to call it a day. They had spent a relaxing Saturday afternoon shopping at University Park Mall in Mishawaka, pampering themselves with pedicures.

Robyn was seven months pregnant and Laura had bronchitis and laryngitis. “We were quite the team that day,” Laura said.

In more ways than one.

As the friends started heading toward the mall doors, they saw an older woman across the concourse fall to the ground. Laura and Robyn, who are both RNs in the operating room at Elkhart General Hospital, turned toward one another in disbelief as the victim lay on the ground not moving.

“What should we do?” Robyn asked in a hoarse voice.

They both knew the answer. “I think we have to help her!” Laura replied.

The friends quickly ran over to the victim and assessed her condition. She didn’t have a pulse, she wasn’t breathing, and her lips were turning blue. After asking a man nearby to call 911 and mall security, Laura and Robyn started performing CPR.

Two other bystanders, including a lifeguard and another nurse, also ran over to help.

Laura started compressions. The other nurse who joined in counted the compressions aloud since Laura had laryngitis. Robyn grabbed a new pair of socks out of her shopping bag and put one over her mouth as she gave the victim breaths. They performed two rounds of CPR before a mall security officer arrived with an automated external defibrillator.

As they were putting the defibrillator pads on the elderly victim, Laura and Robyn noticed a little girl standing nearby. She looked to be about 10 and said she had been shopping with her grandma when her grandma grabbed her heart and fell.

“She just kept asking us if we were going to let her grandma die or if her grandma was going to die,” Robyn said. “The little girl looked so helpless. I kept telling her that we were doing our best and that more help was on the way.”

The defibrillator advised them to shock, so Laura and Robyn looked at each other, said “All Clear,” and delivered one shock to the victim before resuming compressions. After two more rounds of CPR, the woman’s color started changing from purple and dusky blue to a normal color.

By this time, a small crowd of mall shoppers had surrounded the victim. But some kind bystanders created a make-shift wall with their jackets to provide the woman privacy and block the view of others as Laura and Robyn worked to save her life.

And that’s just what they did that afternoon at the mall.

“I checked for a pulse and she had a very weak one, but it was there,” Robyn said. The woman started gasping for air, so Robyn and Laura turned her to her side so she wouldn’t aspirate. The woman slowly became responsive, opening her eyes. A few minutes after they revived the woman, the paramedics arrived and took over. The woman was placed on a stretcher and responded to the paramedics questions.

“I am very thankful to have had Laura by my side,” Robyn said. “She is one of my best friends and I don’t think I could’ve done it without her.” They kept each other calm and worked together that afternoon in the mall, just like they do with their operating room teams at Elkhart General Hospital.

“It was such an amazing feeling,” Laura agreed. “As we were leaving the mall, I looked at Robyn and said, ‘I think that we were supposed to be there and help that lady. We just saved a life.’”

About Heidi Prescott

Passionate about writing her whole life, Heidi Prescott joined Beacon Health System in 2015 and currently serves as Director of Communications. A former newspaper journalist who has experience in TV, radio, magazines and social media, Heidi loves storytelling, photography and spending time in nature.