After finishing her morning workout at Orangetheory Fitness on July 29, Elizabeth Schwarze hopped into her SUV and took what became a very fortunate shortcut through the new Clift Farm development.
Elizabeth, a pediatric orthopedic nurse practitioner at The Orthopaedic Center (TOC) in Huntsville, came upon a vehicle stopped in the middle of Jack Clift Boulevard, hazard lights flashing.
Just off the road, two bystanders stood over a male jogger who had collapsed on the sidewalk.
He wasn’t moving.
“I was on the phone with my husband and told him, ‘Something’s happened, I’ve got to stop,’” Elizabeth recalled.
She hurried over to see if the man needed help. The bystanders – another jogger and a Door Dash driver – didn’t have any medical training. Elizabeth, who has been a nurse since 2009 and previously worked in Huntsville Hospital’s Cardiac Intensive Care Unit, decided to take charge. She started by checking the man’s pulse.
Quickly, she told the bystanders she needed their help to stabilize the man’s head and roll him onto his back. They were scared, but one of them agreed. The other bystander stayed on the phone with the 911 operator.
“You could tell he was in really bad shape, so I started CPR immediately,” Elizabeth said. “After four or five rounds, I got a very faint pulse. It wasn’t much of a pulse, but it was something.”
Nearby, Ashley Noles, a registered nurse in the Mother Baby Unit at Huntsville Hospital for Women & Children, was on her way to breakfast at Chick-fil-A in Madison with her husband and their four kids. Like Elizabeth, they had taken a shortcut through the Clift Farm neighborhood and happened upon the scene.
“No first responders had arrived yet, so my husband pulled over and just said, ‘Ashley, go help!’” she recalled.
While Elizabeth continued chest compressions on the jogger, Ashley counted each push out loud to help her maintain a steady rhythm. Ashley also had the smart idea to check the man’s heart activity on his Apple Watch; it showed his last recorded heartbeat eight minutes earlier.
“That told us he hadn’t been down for too long,” said Ashley. “With CPR, time is tissue, so we knew we had gotten to him soon enough that he had a chance.”
Elizabeth was becoming exhausted from multiple rounds of CPR on her knees in the blazing sun, so Ashley offered to take over.
Ashley has taken several advanced life support classes during her 11-year nursing career and just completed a CPR refresher course earlier this summer after moving to Huntsville from Panama City, Florida.
As the two nurses continued their lifesaving efforts while waiting on paramedics to arrive, they knew they needed to find out the jogger’s name so they could alert his loved ones. He wasn’t carrying any identification, but Ashley thought to search his watch for recent calls.
One of his phone contacts said “Sgt.” She dialed the number.
“Sergeant” turned out to be the man’s boss. Through him, they learned the person they were frantically working to save was Kyle Browne, a 31-year-old police officer from Fairfax, Virginia.
Kyle and his wife were in Alabama visiting friends who recently moved to Madison. An avid jogger, Kyle had gone out for a three-mile run that morning. He had almost made it back to his friends’ house when he suffered a cardiac event around 9:30 a.m. and collapsed on the sidewalk along Jack Clift Boulevard.
The story took an unexpected twist when U.S. Rep. Dale Strong (R-Monrovia) showed up at the scene. A licensed emergency medical technician and volunteer firefighter, the first-term Congressman heard the commotion on his scanner and went to see if he could help. He had just returned home from Washington, D.C., the previous night.
As a first responder, Strong carries lifesaving tools in his vehicle including a cardiac defibrillator. He, Ashley and Elizabeth delivered two electrical shocks from the machine to try to jolt Kyle’s heart back into rhythm.
It was a Saturday morning, so Strong was dressed in shorts and a T-shirt instead of his customary suit. Ashley and Elizabeth didn’t know until after the fact that they had been performing CPR with a member of Congress.
Paramedics arrived with still more lifesaving gear and administered epinephrine, a drug that can help re-start the heart following a cardiac arrest. Kyle, who by now had regained a pulse, was loaded onto an ambulance and rushed to Huntsville Hospital, the region’s only Level 1 trauma center.
Incredibly, Kyle does not appear to have suffered any permanent cardiac damage. After spending eight days at Huntsville Hospital, he flew home to northern Virginia and is scheduled to return to work at the Fairfax County Police Department on Sept. 1.
“He’ll be on light duty for a while,” says Kyle’s wife, Courtney Locke.
She said multiple cardiologists in Huntsville and Virginia have all come to the same conclusion: Kyle’s heart is healthier than most men in their early 30s, and that what happened was just a fluke.
“They have no idea how it happened or why,” Courtney said. “One of Kyle’s doctors described it as a 1 in 50 million event that can sometimes happen to a person with an otherwise healthy heart.”
Courtney said their experience at Huntsville Hospital was “phenomenal” – from Kyle’s main cardiologist, Dr. Christopher Roth, to the nurses and techs in the Coronary Care and Cardiology units, to the army of behind-the-scenes staff who interacted with the family. The hospital was also the setting for an Aug. 1 prayer vigil for Kyle attended by Congressman Strong, hospital leaders and fellow first responders from Madison County and the D.C. area.
Elizabeth said she believes God put her in just the right place at just the right time for a reason. She had performed CPR on hospital patients before as part of a team, but never on a sidewalk in the scorching heat.
“I give all the glory to the Lord,” Elizabeth said. “It’s what you train for, but you don’t ever want to have to use it.”
Ashley also feels divine intervention was at work that morning: “It’s the providence of God that we were all passing by on that main road (Jack Clift Boulevard) where Kyle collapsed,” she said. “I am so thankful for everyone involved, and for Kyle’s amazing recovery. God is so good.”
For Courtney, knowing that so many strangers stopped to help her husband is both surprising and inspiring. “We grew up in the hustle and bustle of New Jersey, outside New York City, where you rarely see people aware of their surroundings to this degree,” she said. “Elizabeth and Ashley were off duty and had no obligation to stop, but they did.
“It’s a true testament to Southern hospitality and how people in Alabama really watch out for one another.”