Taylor Fausey had no way of knowing that her optimistic attempt to improve her health would be the key factor that would lead to her death.
On Sept. 22, 2015, the University of Cincinnati freshman decided to take a midday break from her studies and walk over to the student recreation center for some exercise. She headed to the center’s cardio theater and jumped onto a treadmill. Three miles and 30 minutes later, she shifted the machine into a cooldown mode and began to catch her breath. That’s when things began to go wrong. Horribly wrong.
Fausey slipped off the treadmill and collapsed onto the rubberized floor. To those on the machines around her, it appeared as if she had just fallen off the treadmill, an embarrassing but not too uncommon occurrence. But that wasn’t the case. After finishing her run, Fausey went into complete cardiac arrest. Her heart stopped. She ceased breathing. There, on the rec center floor, she lay dead.
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The University of Cincinnati has 16 fulltime staff and 78 student workers who operate the 200,000-square-foot center. All of the employees—as well as lifeguards in the pool area—all have two things in common: They all have Red Cross lifesaving training, and they undergo regular emergency drills. A year earlier, a guest in the center had a heart attack while working out, which gave the center the chance to evaluate and install new emergency action protocols. Defibrillators are located throughout the facility. Workers wear hip packs with first aid and lifesaving gear. They are all connected with radios and speak in an array of codes for different types of emergencies.
The facility is generally open 17 hours a day, and at 3:00 p.m., at the time Fausey collapsed, a shift change was taking place so the better part of two crews were in the building at time. Tyler Ikerd, a junior health education major and fitness instructor at the center, was working at a nearby assistance desk when a student came rushing up to him. “Help,” the student said. “Someone fell off the treadmill.” He grabbed the hip pack and ran into the cardio theater. With the help of a physician who was working out at the time, they rolled Fausey onto her back and checked for signs of life. There were none.
Joe Brueggemeyer was working at another desk when another student came with the same message. Brueggemeyer grabbed a defibrillator and ran to the scene where Ikerd was already administering CPR. He hooked up the defibrillator and began assisting with resuscitation breaths.
With a “code blue” call made through the radios and a shift change taking place, 22 employees were quickly on the scene. Most of the group went into crowd control and moved the treadmills out of the way to make room for the stretcher, while Brueggemeyer, Ikerd and five others—Phil Carroll, Josh Moulton, Emily Warnock, Tess Webb and Britany Wiechelman—began a lifesaving rotation, shifting from CPR to rescue breaths to the defibrillator.
Together, they administered two defibrillator shocks and worked nonstop to resuscitate Fausey—for 13 minutes.
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Fausey was barely a month into her college career at UC, where she was an early childhood education major. By all accounts, she was relatively healthy and had never experienced any kinds of heart issues. After a third defibrillator shock by the paramedics, Fausey began breathing on her own and was transported to University Hospital, where she underwent two weeks of tests to determine what went wrong with her heart. After a number of procedures, she made what appears to be a full recovery, and even made the Dean’s List despite two weeks of missed classes.
Earlier this fall, Fausey shared her story at the start of the Cincinnati Board of Directors meeting, where Ikerd, Brueggemeyer and the five other rec center employees who saved her life were honored by the Red Cross for their efforts. Each was given a citation and framed Lifesaving Award signed by American Red Cross President and CEO Gail McGovern and American Red Cross Board of Governors Chairwoman Bonnie McElveen-Hunter.
The award is one of the highest honors given by the Red Cross nationally. It is specifically for an individual or team of individuals who saves or sustains a life by using skills and knowledge learned in an American Red Cross Health and Safety Services course.
“Their heroic actions exemplified the highest degree of concern of one human being for another who is in distress and reminds us of the importance of being prepared with lifesaving skills like First Aid, CPR and the use of an AED,” says Trish Smitson, CEO of the Greater Cincinnati Chapter of the American Red Cross.
The awards were given on Sept. 28—one year and six days after the incident, or what the rec center staff refers to as Fausey’s rebirthday. Five of the members either graduated or left UC, but Ikerd and Brueggemeyer were there.
“I never thought I would have to use the training in a real situation,” says Ikerd. “But once it happened, all of the training and all of the drills that we go through on a regular basis just kicked in. The best part was it was successful and now Taylor can have a long life.”
“It was one of the scariest moments of my life,” adds Brueggemeyer. “But what was so amazing is that we all worked together as a team. I’m just so thankful that she was able to make it through and live.”
The awards were also given on another significant day for Fausey—the day she returns to the rec center, not as a user this time but as an employee. She was hired by Director of Campus Recreation Kim Schmidt to be a fitness floor coordinator, which entails walking around the center—including the cardio theater where she died—enforcing rules and being a resource person.
Fausey stands in the lobby of the Red Cross offices, both thanking those who saved her life and joking with them as her new colleagues. She thanks Schmidt for her new job.
“Just don’t be late,” Schmidt says with a laugh. “And don’t expect any special treatment.”