BY ERIC LINDBERG
DAILY SOUND STAFF WRITER
Carina Powers could feel the man’s ribs seem to give way each time she thrust downward with her hands.
It felt nothing like the CPR dummy.
As she leaned over to deliver her second set of breaths to the lifeless man, his eyes flashed open and he gasped.
“With his first breath, he said the words ‘thank you’ to me,” Powers said. “That was pretty shocking. It seemed like he knew he had been dead.”
The 18-year-old Santa Barbara City College student had just started setting up a table as a hostess at the Santa Barbara FisHouse when she noticed the form slumped on the floor near the entrance to the kitchen.
Immediately jumping into action, Powers sent someone off to call 911 before kneeling to check the man’s condition. His friends and family, a wedding party of 20 people, clustered around in chaotic shock.
Talking and conscious, the man appeared to be in decent shape, Powers said.
A person emerged from the crowd — another restaurant patron proclaiming to have medical knowledge. Powers stepped away.
Someone handed the man a glass of water, a red flag for Powers.
“I know you aren’t supposed to give them water because sometimes they have trouble controlling their throat,” she said.
The patron who had taken over the scene lifted the man into a chair, setting off more alarm bells in Powers’ mind due to the strain on his heart from being moved. Moments later, his eyes rolled back in his head.
“All of a sudden, the man was dead in the chair,” she said. “He had another heart attack.”
She ordered everyone away, her adrenaline kicking in as she lifted the body back to the floor. Light slaps to his face elicited no response. No pulse.
She started performing CPR, a skill she learned during lifeguard certification courses a year earlier, and giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
He gasped to life and Powers sat with him until the paramedics arrived, telling him to stay awake.
“It seemed like it took them forever,” she said. “Then I just started freaking out after that. So many thoughts were going through my head.”
After a few coworkers helped her calm down, Powers gathered herself and pressed on with the busy Saturday dinner service, still obviously shaken.
A group of four asked if they could buy her a round of drinks, calling her their hero. The 18-year-old told them to buy a round for themselves instead to celebrate.
Out of town at the time of the incident, restaurant owners Adam and Tom White got word by phone.
“We had a holy, holy cow kind of moment,” Tom White said. “…It sounded like she just took over and took charge. We are just so proud of her.”
On Monday, they called Powers in and thanked her personally.
“We’re just in awe of what happened,” White said. “I can certainly promise you, we wouldn’t have done any better. Luckily, she was there.”
As the shock of the incident wore off, something started nagging at Powers. Did he make it to the hospital? Where is he now? Is he OK?
She tried calling the phone number left in the reservation book. It rang endlessly. No voicemail.
“I don’t know anything about him other than that he was there with a wedding party,” Powers said.
A call to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital seemed promising, but a spokeswoman there couldn’t release any information about the man due to privacy issues. She passed along this reporter’s contact information, but nobody had called as of yesterday evening.
“I can’t forget his face,” Powers said. “When he opened his eyes and said thank you — that image keeps flashing in my mind.”
Having never given CPR or other lifesaving skills other than on a dummy in a lifeguard certification course during her senior year of high school (she never ended up being a lifeguard), Powers said she is glad she performed it correctly.
“I don’t know how I would have felt if I couldn’t bring him back,” she said.
After witnessing the incident, other coworkers have told her they are considering taking a CPR certification course, something Powers highly recommends now.
“Anybody can choke on food at anytime and I think that it’s not only a good idea, but should be necessary for at least one person on the staff to know that.”
Originally from the Santa Ynez Valley, Powers started working at the Santa Barbara FisHouse about a year ago when she started taking courses at City College, studying business and marketing. White said they have no plans of letting her get away.
“We’re definitely going to hang onto her,” he said. “It’s right at the time that we’re opening up the Boathouse restaurant down at Hendry’s Beach. I’m kind of thinking we’ll make her director of beach activities or something.”
Thursday, May 8, 2008
BY ERIC LINDBERG