Story by Patricia Griffiths / Red Cross Cascades
On Sept. 18, 2019, 15-year-old Luka Schaefers was startled from a routine family car ride through Corvallis, Oregon to see a man’s body splayed across a sidewalk.
The man had collapsed face-up in front of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, and another man was flailing about, frantically but ineffectively, trying to revive him.
Schaefers reacted immediately: “We need to stop!”
The man’s face was purple from lack of oxygen, a sign that his heart had stopped beating.
Schaefers was attuned to the signs of distress, because three months prior, he had completed first aid and CPR training in order to be a lifeguard at a Boy Scout summer camp.
Faced with this emergency, he knew what he had to do.
“I went into a fight-or-flight mode and started ‘hammering away’ at his chest,” he said.
Schaefers’ parents supported him. His mother backed him up by counting to help him sustain a steady rhythm of heart compressions. His dad called 911.
His mother provided additional support when another bystander tried to help. The second bystander insisted that Schaefers stop providing CPR because he thought the collapsed man had started to breathe. Luka Schaefers’ mother, Monique Schaefers, who had also been trained in CPR and encouraged her son to continue.
She explained the confusion that might have cost the collapsed man his life.
“There is a difference between breathing and a gasping automatic reflex called agonal breathing,” she said. “If he were really breathing, he wouldn’t be purple.”
The two well-meaning bystanders highlight a key truth: there is no substitute for adequate training and preparation.
The training that Luka Schaefers received from his Red Cross-trained teacher enabled him to respond effectively in seconds. Although he did not need to use this training at the camp, it was vital on that autumn day when preparation was all that was keeping a man alive. That training kept Schaefers on track.
Despite the bystander’s insistence that Schaefers stop, he continued to provide CPR chest compressions while waiting for paramedics to arrive. But, the work was starting to take a toll on him.
“I stopped measuring in time and started measuring in effort,” he said. “I was internally trying to convince myself to keep going and not to feel any tiredness. I was very scared to let go and have him perish.”
Instead, he remembers trying to find another way to muster his energy. “I measured things in how tired I was getting. Eventually, I was jelly-legged and ‘done’ by the time the paramedics arrived.”
When the paramedics did arrive, about ten minutes later, they took over the treatment for the collapsed man, who revived and was transported to the hospital for further care.
The chief paramedic commended Schaefers for his action. With pride, Monique Schaefers said, “That firefighter told me that Luka had done an awesome job and kept him alive!”
That landmark moment is captured in a photo with Luka Schaefers standing in front of the paramedics’ firetruck. He explained his mixed feelings of exhaustion and elation. “I just look totally discombobulated, like my vision is going off in two different directions.”
On the positive side, he said, “I felt very relieved and pretty proud of myself that it worked out so well. It didn’t need to be such a tragic day.”
In a moment of personal reflection, he added, “I’m probably going to be a very different person, not only because I saved a person’s life, but because I didn’t have to watch somebody die.”
Looking forward, Schaefers offers advice to everyone. “I would encourage other people to get their CPR training,” he said. “Not only was it a lot of fun at the time, but it was also very, very useful.”
Honored for his Actions
Because of the actions by Luka Schaefers that September day in September, his CPR instructor Ron Lamie nominated him to receive the Red Cross Lifesaving Certificate of Merit award.
This award, presented to Luka on Aug. 6, 2020, is given to individuals who have saved or sustained life by using skills and knowledge learned in a Red Cross Health and Safety Services class.
“When I heard that Luka had used the skills he learned from the class to help save a person’s life, I felt extremely proud of him,” Lamie said.
Learning CPR only takes a few hours. But, those hours may have a huge consequence, as Lamie said, “You never know when you might be the person that can make a difference in another person’s life.”
You can prepare to make a huge difference in someone’s life, sign up today for CPR training!
To find Red Cross CPR and first aid classes near you, go to www.redcross.org.
The Red Cross offers online and in-person classes even during the COVID-19 pandemic because we recognize the vital importance of being able to save lives at any time.