Saved by a stranger: Hastings man is alive thanks to nurse’s actions
Gene Mann doesn’t remember Oct. 31, but he’ll never forget what happened that day. It was the day he almost died.
Mann, a Hastings resident, was driving a semi-trailer down Vermillion Street early in the morning when he went into cardiac arrest. Behind him, Dan Pfeffer of Welch was driving his pickup and noticed that the semi had its turn signal on for the Con Agra mill, but drove past both driveways.
Pfeffer said he saw Mann reach over toward the center console area of the truck, and got worried when Mann never sat back up again. The semi started rolling backwards, creeping back toward Pfeffer’s truck. Another semi tried to pass but clipped Mann’s rear wheel in the process. Still, Mann wasn’t reacting.
Pfeffer jumped out of his truck and climbed inside the semi cab, where he found Mann laying with his head down by the passenger side floor and his feet up by the driver’s side door. He felt for a pulse, but there was none, so he flagged down another driver to call 911.
“I had to save him,” he said. “At least try.”
A couple cars behind Pfeffer, a Hastings nurse who works at Regina, Michelle Martinez, was driving her kids to school on her way to work. She saw the semi start rolling backwards, and then saw Pfeffer get out of his truck and go up to the cab.
“At this point I was still thinking nothing was wrong,” she said.
Then she saw Pfeffer get on his cell phone. Martinez got out then and asked if everything was O.K. The answer was no – Mann was strapped in, stuck in the truck and had no pulse.
“The training that I’d had kicked in,” Martinez said. “All I could think was that he needed CPR.”
Martinez had Pfeffer pull Mann out of the cab and onto the ground, where she immediately began CPR. The police had arrived by then and helped them until the ambulance arrived and paramedics were able to defibrillate Mann.
It took two shocks to get Mann’s pulse back. Once he had a heart rhythm, paramedics rushed him to United Hospital, where he was given a stent to stop the heart attack.
“I didn’t sleep at all that night,” Martinez said, because she was wondering if Mann was still alive.
Mann’s brother, Don Mann, got a call later that morning from another brother and immediately went to the hospital. By the time he got there, the stent was already placed and doctors were lowering Gene Mann’s temperature. The lower temperature helps the heart recover and reduces the amount of damage the heart sustains from a heart attack or cardiac arrest. It takes 12 hours to warm the patient back up to normal temperature, and 15 minutes before the end of the warming process, Mann woke up. He had been unresponsive between 24 and 36 hours, his brother said.
On Friday, Dec. 20, Mann and his family gathered with the Hastings Fire Department, Pfeffer, Martinez and their friends and family to recognize those responsible for saving Mann’s life.
Martinez was awarded the fire department’s first Citizen Lifesaving Recognition Award for her quick response.
“She started CPR and basically kept this guy alive long enough for us to get there,” said Tom Murray, one of the Hastings paramedics who arrived at the scene.
The award is the highest honor the Hastings Fire Department can give to someone who doesn’t work for the department.
Mann didn’t meet Martinez or Pfeffer until the day of the award presentation.
“Michelle’s my guardian angel,” he said. “She’s the reason I’m standing here today.”
He said God placed both Martinez and Pfeffer nearby for him.
“I’m just glad I stayed there behind him,” Pfeffer said.
Other drivers drove around, unaware there was a problem.
Martinez accepted the award with humility, telling those gathered she didn’t feel she had done anything special. Mann and his family, however, can’t say enough of her.
“In our eyes, Michelle, you are a hero,” Don Mann said during the presentation. “You quickly assessed something was wrong. You cracked the whip to have Gene removed from the cab and performed life-saving CPR until the ambulance arrived. Had the circumstances been different, we would not be here today.
“We recognize Michelle didn’t act alone. We’d also like to recognize Dan and other witnesses and motorists who extracted Gene from the cab and the rescue team from the Hastings Fire Department. Because of all of you, Gene is with us today and is expected to make a full recovery.
“It’s the season of miracles, and we believe our family was blessed with divine intervention that day.
“There is no gift large enough to express our thanks. Please accept this small token of our appreciation.”
Thanks to Martinez and Pfeffer, Gene Mann will get to see his daughter get married Jan. 24.
“I just turned 50 and I’m here for that,” he said.
For Martinez, the rescue came with an unexpected personal tie. Her own father had been a trucker, she said, and died of a heart attack at the age of 52. She wasn’t able to be there then, but she’s thankful she could be there for Mann, she said.