While working at the Cincinnati Zoo, Sara Benjamin, a Red Cross instructor responded to a zoo patron that appeared to be going into cardiac arrest. Sara immediately performed CPR on this person and because of her quick thinking, he survived.
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“Sara has exemplified extraordinary composure during a very stressful situation and we are very proud of her unyielding compassion to help others,” said Wayne Lohmoeller, Operations Manager for the Cincinnati Zoo. “These are just a few of Sara’s leadership traits; we can all learn from her examples.”
Terry Huffman wasn’t feeling very good, but he didn’t want to renege on a promise to accompany his 9-year-old nephew on an overnight field trip to the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden.
Before heading to the park that day – May 17 – the 55-year-old East End resident stopped at his workplace, Tostado’s Grill, to pick up a paycheck.
“Sit down,” his boss told him. “You don’t look good.”
“I’m fine,” Huffman said.
He remembers nothing about that night – or the next morning – at the zoo. After breakfast, about 8:30, chaperones and elementary students from Cincinnati Christian Schools were gathered in Frisch’s Theater in the zoo’s Harold C. Schott Education Center, awaiting a bird show.
That’s when Huffman suffered a massive heart attack, the kind so few survive that doctors call it a “widow maker.”
His heart stopped pumping. Without oxygen, his brain would begin to die within five minutes.
Sara, the zoo’s 25-year-old security operations supervisor, was in her office at the main entrance when the call came that someone had collapsed.
As she jumped on the first-aid golf cart, she reminded herself: Make sure you have the AED (automated external defibrillator) ready. Make sure you don’t leave it on the cart.
She arrived at the theater in less than a minute. Children were quickly being ushered out, but chaperones remained.
“It was scary,” Benjamin said. “He was lying on his back on the floor. One of the chaperones was supporting his head. His eyes were open. There was no response from him at all.”
Huffman’s face was pale. His lips had a bluish tint.
“It was all instinct,” Benjamin said. “My Red Cross training just kicked in.”
She checked that he wasn’t breathing, then began CPR – rescue breathing and chest compressions.
She asked if anyone else knew CPR. A chaperone – she didn’t catch his name – said he could help. Benjamin asked him to continue the compressions while she readied the defibrillator.
She positioned its pads on Huffman’s body. The machine analyzed his heart rhythm and indicated that he needed an electrical shock.
The shock caused his body to jump an inch off the floor.
The machine told Benjamin to continue CPR. She did until Cincinnati Fire personnel arrived and were ready with their own defibrillator. Then they shocked Huffman again.
By then, he was trying to talk.
“That was just pure relief,” Benjamin said.
She remained calm until she returned to her office, where she began to shake. It lasted the rest of the day.
Huffman said he has been lucky in life to be surrounded by many friends and family members. But he’s alive today because of the efforts of total strangers in the minutes and hours after his heart attack.
“Basically he had died,” Khan said. “Bystander CPR was the best thing that could have happened to him.”
Benjamin wasn’t exactly a bystander. Certainly she’s no longer a stranger.
“She’s the nicest person I’ve ever met in my entire life,” Huffman said.
His family contacted her at the zoo, which led to an emotional meeting while Huffman was still in the hospital. The family presented her with a plaque.
She, in turn, gave Huffman a plant, a type of tropical water lily known as lucky bamboo.
“It’s something that will grow. Something you can take care of, and it’ll stick around for a while,” she said.
Just like her new friend.