The decision by a Marshfield woman to head to Silver Dollar City at the end of her children’s spring break resulted in a life-changing event for at least one person and a life-saving one for another.
Going to the popular Branson attraction is a regular occurrence for Stephanie Clift, Marshfield, and her family, as they are season pass holders. But little did she know as she visited the park March 15 that she would be presented with the opportunity to save a stranger’s life.
THE PATH LESS TRAVELED
With a total of five children in tow — two of her own, two of sister Mandy Espy’s, and a friend — the sisters wondered if they should even go to SDC that day, as it was the second day of the season and certain to be busy.
“We just decided to take it on, and when we got there, all the lines were horribly long. So we couldn’t ride any rides,” Clift said. “So we decided to go to Grandfather’s Mansion.”
After the kids went through the funhouse, Clift wanted to walk down a hill to get a snack before attempting to ride a roller coaster. It was on the way there that she encountered then-64-year-old Jerry Stearman, an SDC employee.
“We took the back way so that we didn’t have to go through the crowd,” she said. “And apparently, that’s what the guy was thinking too — to take the back way. He was getting supplies for the deli he works at. He was carrying a big box of cups.”
As her sister walked a few steps in front of her, Stearman suddenly fell into a flower bed and Espy called Clift’s name. It was later learned the man had suffered a heart attack.
“I kind of looked and I thought she knocked him over,” Clift said. “But as I looked closer, I’m like, ‘I think something’s wrong.’”
Espy managed to pick him up a little and pulled him away from where he had fallen between a rock and a tree. Unable to get through to 911 on her cell phone, Espy ran off to get help, while Clift stayed behind with another woman who had passed by to start CPR.
Clift, who works at Marshfield Chiropractic, received CPR certification — a mandatory requirement by her employer — in October 2011. But it was a skill she had never put into practice on a person before.
“I’ve never even seen (CPR) done, except in CPR videos,” she said. “I’ve never seen anyone have to do it. But I think it’s very, very important.”
As the passerby started chest compressions, Clift performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, or rescue breathing. Upon starting CPR, Clift said Stearman had no pulse. “He was completely blue,” she added.
Espy soon returned to the scene with help, as Lance Callahan, a first responder and firefighter with Logan-Rogersville Fire Protection District, also just happened to be at the park that day.
“That he was there at that time was just a blessing,” Clift said, adding he took over chest compressions as she continued mouth-to-mouth. “He really knew what he was doing and was at the right place at the right time, which was awesome too.”
Clift said she had no concerns about performing rescue breathing, and would do it again if she felt the need arise.
“We probably could have got by with just doing compressions because you can. These days, they say just don’t breathe in their mouth, pretty much,” she said. “But we thought that maybe he needed that extra, because there was nothing. He was basically dead.”
After alternating compressions and breathing three times, she said they started getting a faint pulse. SDC paramedics then arrived on the scene and a defibrillator was used on Stearman. Clift said after Stearman was shocked and intubated, “you could just see the color and life come back into him. ... It was pretty miraculous. I’ve never really seen something like that happen.”
Callahan, CPR certified through the American Heart Association, said he’s performed the procedure several times as part of his job.
“I guess you can say you fall back on training,” he said. “Training took over and I just acted on what I was trained on.”
In this instance, he said rapid response was vital to rescuing Stearman.
“I don’t know the percentage, but you don’t normally bring people back with CPR,” Callahan said.
“I think right there we had a very quick response,” he continued.
“Timely response is the number one key for CPR.”
ROAD TO RECOVERY
Stearman was airlifted to Mercy Hospital in Springfield, and for two long weeks Clift said she awaited receiving word on his condition. SDC staff eventually contacted her to say he was recovering well, which was a relief, she said. That feeling was magnified upon receiving a phone call from Jackie Stearman, the victim’s wife. Clift said she somehow knew who it was before Jackie even identified herself.
“I just started crying,” Clift said. “Oh my gosh, it was such a relief to hear that he was OK. He ended up having triple bypass surgery. No brain damage or anything like that.”
Back at work May 15, just two months after his heart attack, Stearman said he’s walking for exercise on a regular basis. He said he’s very thankful to Clift, Callahan and everyone on scene who aided him that fateful day, adding they all are his heroes.
“If it had not been for Stephanie and Lance doing CPR and chest compressions, I would not have made it,” he said. “They are the ones who kept me going until the EMTs of Silver Dollar City came to shock my heart. What Stephanie and Lance did kept me from having any physical heart damage.
“I know that CPR plays a very important part in saving lives and because Stephanie and Lance were there and willing to partake in this, I am forever grateful to them, plus all the others too,” he continued. “It would be good for everyone who could to be trained in doing CPR.”
Clift wholeheartedly agrees: “As far as the CPR certification, I never really thought it was something I would need,” she said. “But I’m so grateful my job offers that, and I think every job should, because it can happen to anyone.”
PART OF THE PLAN
Even though she was composed during the period of performing CPR, Clift said she was pretty shaken up afterwards and had to have her sister drive the family home.
Despite her memorable first application of CPR, the Marshfield woman certainly doesn’t consider herself a lifesaver.
“It was just something you had to do at that time. And I would do it to anyone,” she said. “I would try to save anyone’s life.”
Still, reflecting on that day, Clift said she’s convinced that it was part of God’s greater plan.
“I think it was choreographed, that whole day, just exactly as it was supposed to happen. The way that we went, the direction we went that day,” she said. “We didn’t have to walk that back way to avoid the crowd. And (my sister) didn’t have to see him fall in the flower bed. ... It was really a few minutes of pretty quick thinking.”
Hopeful that her experience might inspire others to get CPR certified, Clift said her doubts about the procedure are erased.
“I kind of questioned if it really works. Can you really bring them back just by that? But I’ve seen it happen, so I know you can,” she said, smiling. “And that’s great.”
RED CROSS URGES EMERGENCY PREPARATION
The American Red Cross has numerous ways people can get the information and training they need to be able to help when an emergency occurs and urges everyone to be better prepared by taking advantage of training and mobile apps available to teach them what to do when someone needs assistance.
FIRST AID/CPR CLASSES
The Red Cross has classes available that emphasize hands-on-learning of First Aid, Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and use of an Automated External Defibrillator (AED). The courses teach someone the skills they need to help save a life. Participants learn how to respond to common first aid emergencies, how to respond to cardiac and breathing emergencies in adults and how to use AEDs. There are also options available to learn how to help infants and children. People can register for these classes at redcross.org/takeaclass or by calling 1-800-REDCROSS.
DOWNLO AD FIR ST AID APP
People can also download the free Red Cross First Aid App for iPhone and Android mobile devices which puts simple lifesaving information at someone’s fingertips. Features include step-by-step instructions to guide someone through everyday first aid scenarios, full integration with 911 to call emergency services from the app and preloaded content to have instant access to information even without device reception or Internet connectivity. The app is available in the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store by searching for American Red Cross.