When 31-year-old Lauren Kirkpatrick set out on vacation earlier this month to visit a friend, she had no idea she’d become a hero and help save a life that first day at the airport.

While waiting for an early morning flight to San Francisco, the local OSF HealthCare Sacred Heart Medical Center pharmacist heard a call for medical help a few gates down from her.

The incident happened around 6:30 a.m. Feb. 17. She said someone was yelling out, “Does anyone know CPR?”

Kirkpatrick first thought that maybe she was just hearing things. But then she heard it again and got up from her seat and looked. There was an airline worker standing over a woman who was laying on the ground. Nobody had gone to help her yet.

“I knew I had to go over there,” she said.

Kirkpatrick said luckily there was a nurse practitioner also on her flight. They went over to the woman together to see what was going on. The people around the woman thought she had a seizure. So the nurse practitioner was running through the typical questions of past medical history and symptoms. Then the woman’s mental status started declining on them.

As a pharmacist, Kirkpatrick said she started thinking about what came next regarding the patient’s needs.

She said she started thinking about getting an AED (automated external defibrillator) just in case something happened. She spotted one on the far wall of the terminal and got it. When she was coming back with it, the nurse practitioner had started chest compressions after the woman no longer had a pulse.

Kirkpatrick was able to get the AED and pads on the woman. It was hooked up, started and then it advised them to shock her, or defibrillate her. So, they defibrillated and then the nurse practitioner and Kirkpatrick started switching on giving chest compressions until help arrived.

Eventually they started hearing some audible mumbling and groaning, and the woman’s pulse came back.

“I’m really glad the nurse practitioner was there because my heart was pounding so hard,” Kirkpatrick said.

She said she didn’t know if the pulse she was feeling was her own or the woman’s. She was thankful the nurse practitioner was there to confirm that they got the woman’s pulse back.

Emergency Medical Services then showed up and took over from there. The woman was breathing on her own.

There was a whole airport watching, and some people clapped for them and congratulated them, Kirkpatrick said, adding that she didn’t want to be the center of attention.

As Kirkpatrick was boarding her flight, EMS was transporting the woman out at that point. Kirkpatrick doesn’t know the full outcome, and hoped it was positive.

Time to think

Afterward when she was sitting on the plane, she was trying not to get overly emotional. In that moment, she was flooded with an overwhelming emotion that she had this God-given opportunity to serve and she did exactly what she needed to do in that moment to help someone.

She knows that she and the nurse practitioner did everything they could to try to give the best chance for the woman to have the most positive outcome.

It was witnessed cardiac arrest with bystander CPR. The two most important things are high quality chest compressions and early defibrillation, Kirkpatrick said.

“And we achieved both of those,” she said.

Getting the woman’s pulse back was significant.

This was the first time when she was in public where she was able to help someone.

Kirkpatrick said she’s seen this countless times in the emergency room and intensive care unit setting.

“I never in my life would imagine I’d have to be in that situation in an airport,” she said. “I was really just thankful I could think so clearly in the moment because if you would have asked me how I would respond, I wouldn’t have imagined I would have responded in that manner.”

Kirkpatrick said she was thinking very clearly, and she thinks a lot of that stems from her experience in emergency medicine and working in the ICU at OSF Sacred Heart Medical Center.

In the health care setting, her role as a pharmacist is preparing medications in those situations. She can count on two hands how many times she’s had to do chest compressions personally.

This medical incident also was her first time figuring out how to use an AED.

Kirkpatrick also thinks what gave her a little more confidence in that situation is quarterly RQI (Resuscitation Quality Improvement) training of doing compressions on a mannequin.

She doesn’t think she would have been thinking on her toes and thinking so clearly about what to do if she hadn’t had the opportunities here.

Medical background

Kirkpatrick, a Westville High School graduate, started at OSF about three years ago. She went to Southern Illinois University Edwardsville School of Pharmacy. After pharmacy school she attended the University of Louisville in Kentucky for post-graduate training.

“I actually originally wanted to go to school to be a doctor. But I almost passed out when I was giving blood once, so I was like, ‘I should probably find a different career,’” she said, adding it was ironic because a lot of her training was in emergency medicine.

Kirkpatrick said her mom is a nurse and suggested that she be a pharmacist. Kirkpatrick said that was the last thing she wanted to do.

She ended up shadowing one of the pharmacists at Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System and she said she really liked the whole hospital side of it.

After that she started at the then Provena Danville hospital as a pharmacy technician. She was then a pharmacy student. After residency, she came back to work as a pharmacist.

“I didn’t know I always wanted to do emergency medicine either. I kind of fell into that because I liked everything I tried, so in emergency medicine was a good mixture of everything. It was a good variety for me,” Kirkpatrick said.

She said she’s “absolutely” found this career fulfilling.

Kirkpatrick now rotates between the OSF Bobette Steely Hegeler Cancer Care Center and hospital in Danville. Most of her time is spent in the emergency room and ICU. Some days she also is staffed in the central pharmacy to make sure medications are being dispensed in a timely manner.

“I think this has given me more confidence,” she said about the life-saving incident.

She also said she never knew where AEDs were at the airport and now she can’t not notice where they are.

“It’s definitely something that I’ll take with me for the future,” she added.

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