Coworkers, base first responders mobilize to save a life

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Feb. 11 started off uneventfully for Michael Bunch at Arnold Engineering Development Center's (AEDC) Precision Measurement Equipment Laboratory (PMEL). Around 2 p.m., the 49-year-old Aerospace Testing Alliance instrument technician was working at a calibration bench when he suddenly felt lightheaded and stood up briefly before sitting down again.

"[After that] I don't remember anything else until I came to in the emergency room at Harton Hospital [Harton Regional Medical Center in Tullahoma]," he recalled. "The next thing I knew I was on a gurney in the hospital getting ready for a helicopter ride."

Fortunately for Bunch, a coworker, Gary Fergus, was nearby in the lab that day.

"I was just sitting at my computer and I happened to look up at him," recalled Fergus, a PMEL foreman and instrumentation technician. "I thought at first he was dozing off. His arms were out in front of him and [then] he just kind of rolled out onto the floor."

It was at this point that training and teamwork fell into place to save a man's life.
Fergus, who had been certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) by ATA last fall and had updated his basic life-saving skills as a Boy Scout leader more recently, knew exactly what to do.

Once the heart stops, CPR must be initiated and done properly as soon as possible. Irreversible brain damage and multiple organ failure results after four to seven minutes without oxygenated blood flow.

Brad Pearson, another IT, called 911 and answered the dispatcher's questions while Fergus and Dale West wasted no time in assessing Bunch and providing two-man CPR to him.

"We tried to determine whether he was conscious or not at first," Fergus said. "He didn't have a pulse and wasn't breathing, so we just rolled him over and went to work on him."

West, who had worked part-time as an emergency medical technician during his time in the Air Force, said, "We were focused on the victim on the floor - he was already in Cheyne-Stokes respirations and that's where your breathing is very irregular and shallow. When I saw that his face was turning blue, I knew that we had to act at that point.

"Probably within 30 seconds of him hitting the floor we [had] started CPR," West continued. "We maintained CPR for about three minutes until the paramedics and EMTs arrived."

Jimmie McCullough, Jackie Wiseman, Danny Myers and Barry Benson cleared a path and opened doors otherwise not accessible from the outside to ensure access for Tim Mansfield and L. E. Brown and other first responders with AEDC's Fire Department.

AEDC's security forces helped clear the route off-base and communicated with Tullahoma police who helped speed the transit to the hospital.

West, reflecting on that day, said, "I've worked in emergency rooms [and] emergency situations and I've worked with trained medical personnel. What I saw back there in the lab last Thursday afternoon was just as calm and professional as you'd see in any emergency room setting.

"These guys did what needed to be done, no questions asked, no yelling, no panic and nobody standing there wringing their hands," he added. "We just did what needed to be done and we're thankful that it such a positive outcome."

Jessica McNeese, CORE nurse practitioner at the base dispensary, had joined the work force at AEDC the same time as Bunch.

When the ambulance with Bunch inside pulled up to the base dispensary, McNeese was there to help. As a nurse practitioner, she also knew his medical history.

"I ended up in the back of the ambulance all the way to the hospital," McNeese said. "They [base EMTs] were trying to get an IV in [and] he pulled it out, so I put another one in. [The] second time was a charm."

Shortly after the medics rolled Bunch into the emergency room, McNeese went back inside to provide the ER doctor with the patient's medical history.

Bunch, who had a special device implanted in his chest to both control his heartbeat and administer micro shocks to avoid irregularities, is still coming to terms with the experience.

"It makes you think what could have happened [under different and less favorable circumstances]," he acknowledged. "They say I can come back to work in about three weeks."