911 dispatcher saves a life over phone with step-by-step CPR coaching

- It was a tearful meeting when Paula and Kris Sanderson finally came face-to-face with 911 dispatcher Angela Presley.

On Aug. 8, Paula Sanderson was hit with the worst asthma attack of her life.

“I was completely unable to breathe,” she said. “I felt myself losing consciousness. The last thing I remember thinking was how ironic it would be to die from an asthma attack.”

That’s when it all went black and she fell to the floor.

Luckily her spouse, Kris Sanderson, was home at the time. She immediately grabbed the phone and dialed 911. At the Mountlake Terrace SNOCOM 911 dispatch center, the phone rang on trainee Angela Presley’s desk.

“Help, help, help!” came through the speaker. “She’s turning blue, what do I do?”

Although Presley had been on the job only eight weeks at SNOCOM – South Snohomish County’s emergency and public safety communication center – she and her trainer Stephanie Gamm knew just what to do: get the patient breathing and get oxygen to the brain immediately. And that meant talking Kris through administering CPR.

“Put her on her back,” Presley instructed. “Put your hands on her chest, keep your arms straight and press down as hard as you can. Now you’re going give her a series of chest compressions. Count with me: 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4…”

Thanks to Presley’s calm, persistent instruction, Kris had Paula breathing on her own when the emergency medical technicians arrived. They stabilized her, and rushed her to Swedish/Edmonds, where she spent the next two hours in the trauma center. Several days later she was released to resume the life that had almost been taken from her.

Today, just one month after that Aug. 8 phone call, Kris and Paula Sanderson visited the 911 center and met Angela Presley face-to-face for the first time. It was a tearful, emotional meeting.

“How do you thank someone who saved your life,” sobbed Paula.

“Having Angela on the other end of that phone was my lifeline,” said Kris. “It was like she was standing right there next to me and we were doing it together.”

One big thing the couple came away with is the value of CPR training.

“Everyone needs to know this,” said Kris. “When you stop breathing, you’ve got 30-60 seconds before brain cells start to die. There’s no time to sit and ponder. You need to keep a clear head and act immediately.”

Presley echoed this. “Every second counts,” she said. “The most important things are to start immediately, keep calm, focus, and call 911 to give your location.”

According to Presley it’s a common misconception that CPR is mostly administered to victims you don’t know. “Ninety percent of CPR resuscitations are administered in your home for someone you know, not a stranger on the street,” she said.

For the Sandersons, it’s been a life-changing experience.

“It’s really driven home how fragile life is,” said Paula. “Something like this makes you appreciate the things in life that are really important.”

— Story and photos by Larry Vogel

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