By Audrey Fraizer
A chain of events spinning a normal Saturday into an altogether different direction helped 19-year-old Sadie Hockenberry discover a potential career path.
Of course, her mother, Marie Dodson, and stepdad, Dan Dodson, certainly would have preferred a jumping point far less dramatic than the sudden cardiac arrest Sadie suffered in July.
“This is not the wake-up call I would have wanted for her,” Marie Dodson said.
Sadie was upstairs in her bedroom on July 27 when her mother decided to give her daughter the rundown of Saturday errands before driving away. They chatted for a few minutes, and Sadie mentioned she would be working that evening at her part-time job, prepping a restaurant’s salad bar.
“Sadie wasn’t sure about what to do after high school,” Marie Dodson said. “This was OK for now.”
No sooner had Marie Dodson turned to leave when she heard a “thump” from where Sadie had been sitting up in bed. Her head had hit the bedstead. Her face was ashen and her eyes were rolling to the back of her head. Marie Dodson ran for her husband who was downstairs waiting to get on their way.
Dan Dodson knows CPR. He learned the technique years ago in scouting and the construction company where he’s a crane operator requires CPR certification. Despite the background in CPR, however, he was understandably hesitant when it came to his stepdaughter.
“He didn’t want to accidentally injure her,” Marie Dodson said.
She called 9-1-1.
Cumberland County (Pa.) Department of Public Safety Dispatcher II Jimmy Brandt said Sadie’s condition went downhill fast from the moment he answered the phone call. Her lips had turned blue. She wasn’t conscious, and she had stopped breathing. There was no pulse. He told them to take her out of the bed and lay her on the floor. This time, Dan Dodson didn’t hesitate to provide CPR compressions, according to Brandt’s instructions that he relayed to Marie Dodson.
“He needed someone to get him going,” she said. “I was certainly frantic but he kept giving her compressions.”
The fire department response crew was the first to arrive at the rural home, and Brandt said he would stay on the line until EMS got there. Twelve minutes later, Dan Dodson turned Sadie’s care over to paramedics from Cumberland Goodwill EMS. Brandt cleared the line and went on to his next call.
Marie and Dan Dodson left the room while responders used a defibrillator to shock Sadie’s heart. Six minutes later, her heart was beating without assistance. Her pulse was coming back. She was airlifted in critical condition to Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in Hershey, Pa.
Twenty-four hours later, Sadie was sitting up in a chair in her hospital room. She was no longer hooked to a ventilator, she was breathing on her own, and her heart was beating normally. She was home by the next weekend with explicit instructions to rest for the next six weeks.
“Tell that to a 19-year-old,” her mother said. “She can’t understand why she has to take it easy. She feels fine and wants to get moving again.”
Extensive heart tests haven’t revealed a reason why Sadie went into sudden cardiac arrest. There is no family history to fall back on since Sadie was adopted as a three-day-old baby and arrived without a family medical history; blood was drawn for DNA testing.
For safety’s sake, her physician recommended the pacemaker Sadie will likely carry close to her heart for the rest of her life. She has no obvious physical or cognitive side effects, despite an estimated 18 minutes without a heartbeat. Her short-term memory is returning (as of this writing).
“We’re absolutely amazed that she’s back home recovering,” Marie Dodson said. “If I hadn’t gone upstairs to talk, if Dan hadn’t been home, and if we didn’t have someone giving CPR instructions, she wouldn’t be here. Everything fell into place. Everyone was where they were supposed to be.”
Brandt said this is the first time during his 11 years with Cumberland County 9-1-1 that he knew “for sure” it was a save and the first time he was credited for a save.
“You like to think you’ve helped along the way, but most of the time it doesn’t happen this way,” he said. “You don’t find out the outcome or it’s too late to help by the time the person is found and the call to 9-1-1 is made.”
Marie Dodson said Sadie seems to be taking it all in stride.
“I’m more nervous than she is,” Sadie’s mother said. “I was in her room, sitting at the edge of her bed, and she sneezed. I jumped, thinking something was wrong.”
The emergency has put Sadie in the direction of a career in emergency response. She has met the EMTs and paramedics involved in her emergency care, and they showed her the equipment they used to revive her heart. Sadie plans to go on a ride-along with Cumberland-Goodwill paramedics and looks forward to meeting Brandt and his team of co-workers in the comm center.
“I always believe things happen for a reason,” Marie Dodson said. “This could have been God’s way of telling her this is where she needs to be.”