Man who performed CPR learns of success via paper
For almost a month, Clint Burke thought he had done all he could to save a stranger’s life, only to watch the man’s lifeless body be taken away by paramedics. As EMTs left the scene, Burke presumed all his efforts at CPR were in vain.
That was until he read an anonymous comment in this newspaper’s Sunday “You Said It” column, and learned his story of reluctant heroism ended in the best way possible.
“CPR works! To all those at the Splish Splash car wash the afternoon of Feb. 5: He made it! Our sincere thanks to the gentleman in the truck next to us who reacted without hesitation to help save a life,” the item read.
Burke was that “gentleman”—and his voice gets a bit halting when he talks about how he felt when he read the item in the paper.
“It was just like now — you just get kind of overwhelmed with emotion,” Burke said.
“You have somebody who you think has passed away in your hands—it kind of takes your breath away,” he said. “I had come to grips with the whole thing, and then all of a sudden to read about it in the newspaper—it was cool.”
Burke is not comfortable with hero status. He hardly wanted to talk to a reporter about the incident, but graciously shared the details of that day—how he was minding his business with everybody else near the vacuum station at the car wash, and then how he heard a noise, turned around, and saw the man on the ground.
“He was looking at me with a dazed look, like he didn’t know where he was,” Burke remembered.
Burke knew there was a problem even before the man’s wife did. She was sitting in the front passenger seat of the vehicle.
Burke yelled out to others to call 911, then put his hand on the man’s chest to find a heartbeat. He found nothing. The man’s eyes rolled to the back of his head, Burke recalled. He began doing chest compressions.
“It was funny, because a lot of people just stood there—(they were) just standing there watching,” he said.
When an ambulance arrived, Burke thought the man had no chance. Paramedics were “not hurrying,” he said, and it seemed four shots from a defibrillator did little to revive the man.
Burke said his final mental image of the man—whitefaced and lifeless, leaving in the ambulance—has been in his thoughts every day since the incident, and he thought the worst.
Before leaving the scene, one of the EMTs told Burke, “You can be standing there with all the tools in the world, but when it’s somebody’s time to go, you know, it’s gonna happen.”
Not this time. Reached by a reporter, the heart attack victim respectfully declined to be interviewed for the story. He says that he is “feeling good” today, and his voice was strong on the telephone.
He did, however, request the phone number of the man who he believes saved his life.
For Burke, even a telephone call is beyond what he was hoping for.
“I just want to see how he is. Even if I just know his name, that would be something I could connect with the face,” Burke said.
For the 42-year-old Burke, he feels lucky his employer requires safety training every year, which included a CPR class last year. Burke, a work equipment supervisor with Union Pacific Railroad, said, “When I was taking the class, never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would actually have to use it.”
Speaking with modest understatement, he added that his CPR skills were a “good thing to know.” He deflected praise by offering thanks to the other people on scene who assisted.
“I can’t fathom somebody just sitting there watching and not trying something,” Burke said.
In an ironic twist, after the ambulance left the car wash, one of those people who also helped out at the scene approached Burke, lifted his shirt, and showed him large scars from a previous heart surgery. It turns out a bystander had done something similar for him some time before.
“He said, ‘Man, thanks to people like you, I got a second chance,’ ‘’ Burke recalled.
Thinking the man on whom he had just performed chest compressions was not going to make it, that seemed at the time like a bit of solace.
It took three weeks of mystery and anguish, and an anonymous newspaper item, for Burke to realize that he, too, had provided another person with their second chance at life.