An assistant athletic trainer and clinical instructor at Central College, Chris Viesselman was closing the training room after track and field practice March 29 when two athletes rushed in saying someone was asking for help in the racquetball court.
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Viesselman and the athletes found Ken Nollen, a 63-year-old Pella resident and avid racquetball player, collapsed on the floor.
“He looked like he was convulsing so I thought he’d hit his head and was having a seizure,” Viesselman said. “I monitored him and at first I felt his pulse but then it went away.”
Viesselman sent the athletes to call 911 while Dustin Briggs, an assistant athletic trainer and clinical instructor at Central, joined Viesselman to perform CPR and use the AED.
The pair revived Nollen with one shock of the AED and he was taken to by ambulance to the Pella Regional Health Center. When his heart rhythm stabilized he was transported to the Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines where a stint was put in.
“It probably only took five minutes but it was a very intense five minutes,” Viesselman said. “It was the first person I’d seen not breathing, without a pulse or heart rate.”
Nollen was grateful to be in the right place at the right time.
“It’s pretty miraculous,” Nollen said. “All these things—where the heart attack happened, the trainers who may not normally be there so late, a defibrillator on site—were evidently planned by God to keep me alive a while longer.
“If this would have happened anywhere else there probably would have been too much response time for me to go without permanent damage or death,” Nollen said.
Nollen was able to celebrate his birthday two days later and he resumed playing racquetball about six weeks after the heart attack. Today he has no heart damage.
Viesselman had a strangely similar experience on a hot and humid afternoon on May 25, less than 60 days later.
After one mile on Central’s outdoor track, Steve McCann couldn’t get his breathing right. He knew spring-semester classes had ended but took his chances on getting inside Kuyper Gymnasium to reach a water fountain.
“Luckily one of the doors was open because they were refinishing the gymnasium floor,” said McCann, a 54-year-old Pella resident who jogs about three days a week.
On his way to the fountain McCann stopped and lay down, because the coolness of the floor felt good. Eventually he got a drink and lay back down on the floor.
That’s where Central’s athletics facilities operations coordinator Duane Houser found McCann.
“I was at the exercise science building across the street and a plumber needed a cart from the fieldhouse,” Houser said. “I saw McCann on the floor and asked how he was doing as I went around the corner.
“As I unlocked the fieldhouse door I looked back at McCann,” Houser said. “He was flailing his legs back and forth so I went back and he asked for an aspirin.
Houser, a former 22-year member of Pella law enforcement, has seen a lot of situations requiring an AED and has used one himself six times. He recognized something wasn’t right and went to the training room to see if anyone was around. He found Viesselman and Leslie Duinink, Central’s head athletic trainer and clinical instructor.
“It was a stroke of good luck we were there,” Duinink said. “We were supposed to have a golf outing as part of our Iowa Conference athletic trainers’ meeting, but there was a big downpour earlier, leaving standing water on the course. Chris and I just happened to be in the office.”
Showing signs of heat exhaustion, McCann was taken to the training room and put in a cold whirlpool.
“Initially he started to get better,” Viesselman said. “He was able to speak easier and he said he was feeling better but then all of a sudden he went into cardiac arrest.”
Holding a towel around McCann to keep him from sliding down in the tank, Houser helped get McCann out of the water before calling 911 as Viesselman started CPR and Duinink got the AED.
One shock stabilized McCann. The paramedics took him to the Pella Regional Health Center where he was transported to Mercy in Des Moines to have a stint placed.
“I can’t say enough for Chris, Leslie and Duane,” McCann said. “With their knowledge and staying calm under pressure, they’re just remarkable people to do something like that.”
Central’s staff members can’t recall any previous a life-threatening situations requiring the use of CPR and an AED, much less two in two months.
“I’m glad we were able to effect a positive change and it all worked out in the end,” Duinink said. ”The ambulance crew tells us it doesn’t always go that way so the fact we’re 2-for-2 here is pretty good.”
Each year the athletic training staff and students review first aid, emergency response, CPR and AED training.
“Some students think it’s ridiculous we make them do things over and over but there’s a reason,” Duinink said. “It’s about repetition so when you’re in a situation, your training will kick in and you’ll do it right.”
The students still in the training room when Nollen went down were prepared.
“The students really did a lot of work, especially calling the ambulance and getting the paramedics to the racquetball court,” Viesselman said. “They were very professional and handled it well.”
Briggs agreed the students controlled the situation.
“They didn’t really flinch or freak out, they just did what they were supposed to,” Briggs said. “I think it reaffirms what a strong program we have.”
“It really was a team effort providing care for those two people,” Viesselman said. “Everybody takes a different role and brings a level of experience. It goes much smoother and at the end of the experience you’re proud to be a part of that type of team.”