It seemed like just another workout recently at the Brad Akins YMCA in Winder for Ashley Still — until she saw an employee from the gym hurrying over to her. A woman had collapsed near the swimming pool, and the employee knew Still was a first responder.
Still, a Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC) police officer, rushed from the weight room to the indoor swimming pool area. She knew what was wrong the second she laid eyes on the unconscious woman.
“I immediately recognized it as full cardiac arrest,” said Still. “She had no pulse and was displaying agonal gasps. I went to straight hands-on CPR, working with the team of people that were there.”
Fortunately, the YMCA employees who were the first to the woman’s side had grabbed the club’s automated external defibrillator (AED) machine and had begun hooking it up. Still happens to be the certified AED trainer for GGC.
“The purpose of an AED is to restore a normal cardiac rhythm,” said Still. “Normally in cardiac arrest the heart is kind of going nuts. The AED shocks the heart to restore the normal rhythm. Having that available really helps people.”
Still stepped in and lead the resuscitation effort, using CPR and one shock from the AED to get the woman’s heart beating again.
“The training definitely just kicked in. So many times repetitively teaching about it — it just took over,” said Still, noting that she had taught a BLS (Basic Life Support) class to fellow GGC police officers just days before. “Everything worked exactly how it’s supposed to.”
It saved the woman’s life.
Still, of Monroe, has been a GGC police officer for six years. Before that, she was a GGC student, earning a degree in criminal justice in 2012 — but she didn’t start out to be a police officer.
“When I started at GGC we didn’t have but four majors, and criminal justice wasn’t one of them. I transitioned into it. I started off as a biology major because I was going to pursue nursing,” she said.
However, Still’s sister was suffering from a long illness which eventually caused her to lose her taste for hospitals. She switched her major to psychology for a semester, then took a semester off. When she came back, the school had introduced a criminal justice major. She decided to give it a try and made straight A’s from the start.
“It’s one of those things. When you find what you’re supposed to do in life, it just kind of works,” she said.
Still has been a tireless advocate for AED machines and has used her own life experiences to fuel her efforts to educate her fellow first responders and get more of the portable medical devices placed in every building and in every patrol car on GGC’s campus. She is intimately acquainted with the devastating effects of heart disease, having lost her own father to a heart attack.
“Heart disease is the number one killer of people in the United States. My dad died from a cardiac-related event, so I get what loss is about,” said Still. “My sister passed in 2014 and my dad passed two years later. The knowing of loss is the driving factor for the medical stuff that I like to teach. I love anything preventative, so if I can prevent loss, or hurt, or sadness — whether it’s crime- or health-related — that’s my ultimate goal.”
Still’s training ensures that every GGC officer is as prepared to respond to a cardiac event as she is. She said the event at the YMCA illustrates that emergencies can happen anywhere, not just on campus.
“I try to tell our officers – we just never know what’s going to happen,” she said. “We assume it’s going to happen on campus, but when you go to the gas station and a mom runs up to you with an infant that’s not breathing, they don’t care what the patch on your arm says. They just see somebody that can help.”
As it turns out, Still is not the only GGC officer to save a life with an AED machine. In 2015, Sgt. Tamu Washington used an AED machine to revive a heart attack victim on campus, showing just how important it is to have those machines handy, said Still.
Good training and equipment are essential for saving lives, but as for the woman she was able to save in the YMCA, Still thinks a little bit of luck, and maybe some divine intervention might have also had a hand in it.
“From what I understand she was there to watch her grandkids at their swim lessons. She wasn’t supposed to be there — she changed her mind last minute — so, it worked out for her too. Everybody being at the right place at the right time,” Still said. “Last I heard, she’s doing fine. I understand she’s still in the hospital. That’s a bonus. The fact she’s here to see her grandkids another day — that’s all that matters to me.”