The Hometown Team
Everyone standing in the Sanford Canby Medical Center emergency room remembers what was happening last year, the night that they got the call about Alex Briggs.
It was time for shift change at the small hospital and some nurses were coming in to start their workday while others were already thinking about the drive they had home before a few hours of sleep.
The next hour was a time that even the most experienced nursing staff will never forget. They joined together in a concerted effort with the clinical team to save the life of a 16-year-old boy who had fallen into a grain truck and was submerged, unable to breathe.
While Alex wouldn’t ultimately survive, their efforts helped others in a way the team never could imagine.
“It’s heartbreaking because we’re so very connected to the community and we wanted to save him, but at the same time I couldn’t be prouder of the work we did that night. We’re an amazing team,” says registered nurse Chelsea Hook.
The trauma team typically handles only a small number of extreme trauma cases like this – Alex’s case was one of only six that year. The teams’ role is to provide a professional on-site response, seamlessly linking trauma patients to Sanford’s network of care.
When the call comes in that they’re needed, nurses, who work in rural settings, are pulled from whatever other things they may be doing to help out. On Oct. 22, registered nurse and EMT, Chrissy Boerboom, was on the way to the movies with her children. Chrissy knew from the traffic on her EMT pager that the call for assistance was pretty serious, so she came in to the Canby Hospital to see how she was needed.
Outside the one-bed emergency room, Chrissy saw a friend, Alex’s father, Bill. He said to her, “It’s my son. Please save him.” It was time to get to work.
The reality of life in a rural community hospital is that when a call comes in, the patient is likely to be a neighbor or friend. As the team assembled during the ten minutes it took the ambulance to make it to the hospital, they got more and more information about the person who would be arriving. They knew it was a teenager and he was in very critical condition.
A friend or neighbor
“I always think for a second, is it someone I know?” says Jerry Durfee, the certified registered nurse anesthetist who was called in that day. “You have that thought and then you do what you have to do.”
When Alex arrived, nearly a dozen people went to work in the compact room lined with medical equipment. The team, which included five RNs, one CNRA, a doctor and the emergency medical technician team that brought him in, kicked into action. One administered medication while another started cardio pulmonary resuscitation or CPR.
There were moments of hope, when they could see his pulse on the screen of the heart monitor. Over the 62 minutes that he was in the Canby emergency room, his heart struggled to keep beating. He flat lined several times and the team placed the defibrillation paddles on his chest, trying to shock his heart back into a steady rhythm.
Every team member worked hard to stabilize Alex for the helicopter flight to Sioux Falls. His body was cooled to reduce his need for oxygen and one nurse even ran to the hospital kitchen to grab additional ice to add to the medical cold packs.
Suddenly, he was gone from the Canby facility. The Sanford Air Ambulance crew picked him up and took him to Sioux Falls, where Alex would stay at Sanford Children’s Hospital for three days. Shortly after Alex left, a few of the Canby team members went straight into another case, helping a stroke patient who came through the door minutes later.
“You’re left with that empty room, but you know you did everything you can,” says Boerboom. “We all shed a few tears and then we went our separate ways,” Hook adds.
Nearly everyone in the close-knit community of about 1,800 people followed updates on Alex’s condition over the next few days. When they heard the news that Alex’s brain function had ceased, they were sad. But that wasn’t the end of the story.
A gift of life
At his funeral, Alex’s family explained that months before the accident, the teen got his driver’s license and told his parents that he wanted to be an organ donor. Without that conversation, his grieving parents likely wouldn’t have considered organ donation. As many as 60 people may have received his organs, his family said.
“It’s bittersweet for us. We wish we could have saved him, but he and his family did such a good thing for so many people,” says Durfee.
Lanyards were sold as a remembrance of Alex that says “Alex’s Angels,” and several of the team members still wear them. The nurses said they were comforted by the kind words of Alex’s mother on the family’s Caring Bridge website, where his mother described how grateful she was for the care her son received at Sanford Health.
At the time of the emergency call, registered nurse Traci Gislason had been part of the trauma team for only about a year. She shakes her head when she talks about how her nursing school classmates told her she’d be bored in a small hospital.
“There’s no way that I’d ever have the kind of experiences I have had here,” Gislason says. “I’m part of a great team working right here to look out for the people like Alex, my neighbors. This is what it’s all about.”
Posted Date: September 2012