Ronald Turner thought he’d cut the grass around his fish pond, but his wife, Lavonia, laid down on their bed to rest before she cooked supper. So Ronald put off the mowing.
“I thought she might be feeling bad,” he said. “So, I thought, ‘Naw, I’ll just lay down with you.’”
The phone then rang and Lavonia told her husband to pick it up.
“I reached and got it,” said Ronald. “And it was someone wanting to help me out with my credit card. And I don’t even have one. Anyway, I heard like a big yawn and I looked over and she was just rared up in the bed. And I didn’t know what to do. I run around and tried to shake her. Then I called 9-1-1.”
Lavonia was having a heart attack.
The call came into the Madison County 9-1-1 center at 6:03 p.m., July 8, where dispatchers Irene Jordan, Joey Hendricks and Matt Cleghorne were on shift.
First responder Barry Maxey heard the call go out from the 9-1-1 center and he raced to the South Railroad Avenue home in Carlton, arriving in roughly four-to-six minutes.
“That’s the fastest service I ever heard on 9-1-1,” said Ronald.
Maxey said something told him to “get there faster, something ain’t right.”
“I met him (Ronald) at the back door,” said Maxey. “I said ‘What’s wrong?’ He said, ‘She’s just screaming real loud. I don’t know what’s wrong with her.’”
Maxey said when he got to the bedroom, Lavonia wasn’t breathing. It was the first “code” call he had received in his three years as a first responder, meaning it was the first time he needed to resuscitate a patient. He said his adrenaline was flowing.
“I checked her pulse, checked everything, checked her airway,” said Maxey. “I did everything I was supposed to. I was like, she doesn’t have a pulse. I turned around, my uncle was there.”
Maxey’s uncle, Chris Smith, a first responder for 25 years, hurried in to help his nephew. The two got Lavonia off the bed and started CPR, doing two to three rounds before fellow first responder Keith Callaway, also a paramedic, arrived with an automated external defibrillator (AED).
“We shocked her one time and that’s when the paramedics walked in,” said Maxey.
Paramedics Kasey Phillips and Rebecca Smith showed up at the Turners’ home and Phillips found that the first responders’ life-saving efforts had worked.
“She (Phillips) checked her pulse and said, ‘Stop guys, we have a pulse,’” said Maxey. “We didn’t do CPR after that. We got her in the truck, hooked her up and hauled butt to Athens.”
Rebecca Smith said the first responders did a great job.
“It was jam up CPR,” said Smith. “Kasey and I both talked about it afterwards. And all we were was the transport vehicle. We got a pulse back on her before we left the house, which we would not have accomplished without the early CPR and the early AED use…I honestly think it wouldn’t have been quite as good as an outcome had it not been for them. Because they were on the scene within minutes of it happening. So that meant Mrs. Turner didn’t have to go very long without oxygen.”
Maxey, Callaway and Chris Smith are three of Madison County’s 52 first responders. Madison County EMS director Jason Lewis said the first responders are a vital part of the county’s emergency response team.
“EMS does not work without the first responder system,” said Lewis. “And we have one of the best paid (EMS) staffs around, but to be able to give them the opportunity to do their thing, we need the first responders. They are awesome. I’m impressed. I really am.”
First responders answer medical calls close to their homes. That means those in need have help as quickly as possible. It also means the responders often know who they’re helping. For instance, Callaway knew exactly who was in distress that July day.
“I knew who I was going to; my emotions were high,” said Callaway. “And I’ve known both of them (the Turners) since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. They’re like family. I’m down there a lot and pass by and it’s a little bit different going to someone you know so well versus a stranger.”
Madison County’s first responders are spread throughout the county, but some areas — such as Comer, Ila and Collins — could use more responders, according to first responder director Frank Edwards. A class of 10 new first responders is currently in training, but anyone interested in becoming a first responder — or in taking CPR classes — can inquire by calling 706-795-2174.
Edwards pointed out that the defibrillator used to help save Lavonia’s life was a private donation to the EMS.
“It (the AED) was very important that they had it and used it,” said Edwards. “That was given to us, the first responder program, through a private donation. So, those folks that gave that money need to know that it worked.”
Chris Smith emphasized that saving Lavonia’s life was a team effort.
“It took the whole system,” said Smith. “These paid professionals who teach us what to do. It took all of us to make the difference. They’re just as important in this as any one of us were.”
Smith praised his nephew, too, who he said did well despite being nervous.
“The first emotion he (Maxey) had was shock, because he was almost pale white when I got there,” said Smith. “But he was doing what he needed to be doing. He done a good job.”
Lewis reiterated Smith’s team effort theme, adding that those who received the emergency call and paged out help deserve recognition.
“It starts with dispatch,” said Lewis. “The dispatchers so often are overlooked. And without getting the help there, they start the ball in motion.”
Last week, Lavonia Turner met at the Comer Fire Department with those who saved her life. The mood was considerably different than on July 8. There were hugs and a lot of laughter. Both Ronald and Lavonia were thankful for all on hand.
“I respect you all,” said Lavonia. “I do appreciate it. If it were not for you all, I wouldn’t be sitting right here.”
Rebecca Smith smiled back at her.
“That’s why we do it,” said Smith. “We don’t get to hear those stories very often.”
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