North Richland Hills, TX — When Kelli Elliott agreed to be a substitute player for a friend’s co-ed softball team on September 13, she had no idea she would also help save the life of the team’s pitcher, Eric Lopez. On Friday, December 6, at 2 pm, Elliott will be honored at a Lifesaver Award ceremony at Medical City North Hills, along with the Hurst Fire Department EMS crew and others who helped save Lopez’s life.
As the softball game finished at the Hurst Athletic Complex, players were saying goodbye when then 43-year-old Lopez collapsed with a heart attack.
“I was walking to the dugout and saw Eric’s wife running onto the field in a panic,” recalled Elliott, a medical assistant and phlebotomist who works at an urgent care center. “People were standing around Eric, screaming that he wasn’t breathing.”
Elliott ran over and began CPR while an umpire ran to get the athletic complex’s automated external defibrillator, or AED. Elliott performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, monitored Lopez’s pulse and instructed teammate Nicholas Hoover how to perform chest compressions. They used the AED to shock Lopez’s heart twice, stabilizing him until Hurst EMS arrived and took over. In transit to Medical City North Hills, EMS coordinated Lopez’s care with the hospital’s cardiac care team, which rushed him to the cardiac catheterization lab for emergent treatment. Lopez says he ended up having quadruple coronary artery bypass grafting to correct a genetic heart problem and is feeling better.
“I appreciate what everyone did to save me – without them I wouldn’t have made it to my recent 44th birthday,” Lopez said. “They knew exactly what to do and they didn’t hesitate. Plus, the softball complex had the AED equipment available.”
The Lifesaver Ceremony on December 6 will also honor North Richland Hills EMS crews who helped save the life of 81-year-old Betty Turnage, mother of longtime North Richland Hills City Council member Scott Turnage Jr., on May 4.
When family members realized Mrs. Turnage was having a stroke, they called 9-1-1, and NRH EMS arrived within minutes. Paramedics suggested taking her to nearby Medical City North Hills, certified as a Primary Stroke Center, instead of a larger hospital farther away. Time to treatment is extremely important in improving chances of stroke recovery. The North Richland Hills Fire Department (NRHFD) has a partnership with Medical City North Hills where paramedics can directly activate and coordinate care with the hospital’s emergency team prior to arrival at the ER, reducing time to treatment.
After stroke treatment with clot busting medication at Medical City North Hills, Mr. Turnage said his mother is now “doing so well, probably 95% recovered from where she was pre-stroke.”
“Everybody involved in her case was just top-notch,” Turnage continued. “She had such a great outcome, and we are really pleased to honor all of her caregivers. It especially means so much to me and my family to see this honor bestowed on the North Richland Hills Fire Department.”
Turnage added that he has a greater appreciation for the medical care available locally in his community. “Out here, people sometimes think if you have a serious medical emergency, you have to go to downtown Fort Worth,” Turnage explained. “I maybe had a little of that myself, but my attitude has changed.”
“The partnership between Medical City North Hills and NRHFD is vital to providing our community members and patients with the care they deserve,” said Chris Jungst, Division Chief-EMS. “Through the innovative approach to beginning care for patients in the field that may be experiencing sepsis or stroke concerns, we are paving the way for partnerships such as these to form across the country. Statistically, providing care through early intervention has led to mortality decreases -- giving our patients a fighting chance. The paramedics treating Mrs. Turnage were aware that transporting downtown would put her outside the window for tPA (clot-busting drug) and instead opted for rapid transport to Medical City North Hills, providing Mrs. Turnage with the best possible treatment option and outcome.”
“We are pleased to celebrate these lifesaving events and recognize the heroes involved,” said Nancy Hill, RN, chief operating officer for Medical City North Hills. “Our expert staff and physicians at Medical City North Hills would not have had the opportunity to provide successful emergency care without the lifesaving efforts of Mr. Lopez’ teammates, the City of Hurst Recreation Department for having the AED equipment available, and the North Richland Hills and Hurst EMS crews who cared for Mr. Lopez and Mrs. Turnage on the scene and en route to the hospital.”
David Palla, Chief of the Hurst Fire Department, noted it is well documented that bystander CPR and early defibrillation with an AED saves lives.
“In this particular instance, trained bystanders took advantage of their training and a publicly available AED to save a life,” Palla said. “Shortly after fire department personnel arrived on scene, the patient began talking to personnel, which is always a very welcome event. Data removed from the AED indicated that the unit was properly applied by bystanders and lifesaving defibrillation occurred shortly after application.”
NRH Fire Department and Hurst Fire Department have worked closely with Medical City North Hills staff to develop protocols for STEMI (heart attack) activations and sepsis diagnosis/care by paramedics in the field, decreasing time to lifesaving interventions. NRHFD paramedics have gone through extensive additional training to be the first fire-based EMS service in the country to administer pre-hospital antibiotics in the field, according to NRHFD officials. For every hour an antibiotic is delayed, mortality increases by 8%. Medical City North Hills reported an EMS mortality decrease from 8% in 2017 to 3% in 2018.
News Media Information:
Members of the media are invited to attend the Lifesaver Awards presentation at 2 p.m. on Friday, December 6, at Medical City North Hills. The event will be held in the Austin Room, Suite 202, of the medical office building, 4375 Booth Calloway, North Richland Hills. Eric Lopez, Betty Turnage and Scott Turnage plan to attend, along with family members. Honorees will also include North Richland Hills and Hurst fire department EMS crews, softball team members Kelli Elliott and Nicholas Hoover, and Jennifer Kashner from the City of Hurst Recreation Department. Medical City North Hills staff and physicians will be available for interviews, as well. First responder honorees include: (Hurst) Captain Steven Ramsey, paramedic; firefighters/paramedics Kody Collins, Brandon Peters, Luis Flores and Zac Walker; (North Richland Hills) Captains Jeff Smith and Jason Lewis; driver-engineer Michael Autrey; firefighter/paramedics Simone Jimerson, Eric Gudjohnsen and Kent Spencer.