Debra Stevens, 61, was shopping at the Safeway in Covington having a normal day before picking up her grandsons from school. She was in the meat department looking at the fresh cuts near the counter, when one of her major arteries became blocked and sent her into cardiac arrest.
Stevens blacked out and fell down, hitting her head against the metal counter. That’s what Laura Mitchell saw while she was shopping on Dec. 19.
“So it was the last day of preschool before Christmas,” Mitchell said. “I ran over to Safeway and it wasn’t very busy. And I’m walking and I saw Debra collapse … I saw her fall backward, kind of to the side, and just slam.”
Mitchell, who has suffered from epileptic seizures in the past, was sure Debra was having a seizure in the middle of the store.
“I thought ‘Oh gosh this is happening in public,’” she said. “I saw a brunette lady kind of staring at (Debra). I called 911 and told the other lady not to touch her because she could be having a seizure.”
Mitchell glanced back at Debra and saw her nose and ears were turning blue. Mitchell has knowledge of anatomy, CPR and health due to some massage therapy schooling. Mitchell called it Cyanosis, which is when blood is not being pumped into the lungs to receive fresh oxygen.
“When I put her on her back I was on the phone with 911 and I go ‘I’m going to have to start CPR,’” Mitchell said. “I just felt for her sternum and I just started doing compressions. Her ribs broke immediately.”
But when Steven’s ears and nose started to turn pink, Mitchell knew she was doing the right thing.
Mitchell said it felt as if the fire department was taking forever, but she was willing to continue CPR. Then two of Covington’s police officers arrived at the scene and took over. The two officers, Jordan Hess and Branson Carr, took over for Mitchell until EMS arrived on scene with an AED device to help shock Steven’s heart.
“This could have been a bad situation for her family,” Mitchell said. “This could have happened at home and she would have been dead. So I calculated based off when I called 911 and I didn’t take my hands off that woman’s chest for 15 minutes. But I had my adrenaline up and I have some strength from doing massage.”
Mitchell said she remembers when EMS had to cut Stevens free from her clothes to perform basic procedures, causing the down feathers in her jacket to float all over the store.
Stevens daughter, Megan Stevens, didn’t realize how crucial Mitchell was in that situation until after her mother was starting to wake up.
“I actually didn’t find out until after a firefighter called me and told me about the recognition,” Megan Stevens said. “I first watched a video from Safeway of her falling and I got a timeline and then I posted the video the next day looking for those who helped my mom.”
Megan Stevens initially thought another woman had performed CPR, but when the local fire authority and Covington City Council asked Megan Stevens and her mom to attend an honorary event for Mitchell, she knew the truth.
“It was incredible. It wasn’t even a minute before people stopped and checked on my mom. I don’t know what I would do if I was in that situation, but I hope that I would do the same thing,” Megan Stevens said.
It may sound like Mitchell is an outspoken resident, but seeing her sheepish smile while standing in front of the council, fire department, police department and Steven’s family would tell you otherwise. Mitchell, along with officers Hess and Carr were honored with awards for their valiant efforts in saving Debra Steven’s life on Monday, Jan. 27.
Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority Captain Joe Root spoke at the meeting, and discussed the importance of CPR training for residents.
“When we teach CPR classes we talk about a chain of survival,” Root said. “It’s a couple of different pieces. There’s early recognition, early activation of the EMS system. It’s early CPR and it’s rapid defibrillation … It was all of those unique pieces that all came together and allows us to celebrate this with Debra.”
Debra Stevens was discharged from the hospital on her 61st birthday, Jan. 2.
Covington Police Chief Andrew McCurdy spoke about the King County Sheriff’s Department’s efforts to equip patrol cars in Covington with AEDs and other medical equipment. He awarded two Life Saver awards to Hess and Carr, who both have received the Life Saver awards for previous acts of courage.
“It was an honor, I was really shy,” Mitchell said. “My advice would be, don’t be scared. I mean, there’s really one of two things — they’re either going to die or you can help facilitate them surviving. Be informed about hands-on CPR.”
WHERE TO TAKE CPR CLASSES
Residents are encouraged by local firefighters and EMS to take CPR classes to help in medical emergencies. The Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority hosts CPR/AED/First Aid training for the community. Class costs include;
•Adult CPR/AED – $30
•Adult First Aid – $30
•Adult CPR/AED/First Aid – $60.
Classes are held regularly on Saturdays. To register for a class visit https://www.eventbrite.com/o/19708625368.