When a co-worker complained to Fritz Gaul, of Le Mars, of sore arms, and then indigestion, at first Gaul chalked it up to his co-worker's heavy lifting and a breakfast burrito.
But when the co-worker continued to mention feeling unwell, things clicked into place in Gaul's mind.
Gaul and Jody Ohm, of Le Mars, both Wells Enterprises employees, were honored this month by the American Red Cross as Heroes of the Heartland for helping save the lives of co-workers in two separate situations.
Seeing the signs
Once Gaul's suspicions were raised, he stopped what he was doing at the Wells' engineering center.
"I looked over, and I said, 'are you having a heart attack?'" Gaul said.
When the co-worker denied it, Gaul said his suspicions were confirmed.
"That's strike three," he said "Denial."
After Gaul recognized the signs of heart attack in his co-worker, he called the company nurse.
She instructed him to immediately call 911.
Within minutes, the nurse and the ambulance were there, and the co-worker was taken to the hospital.
"It was a full-blown heart attack. He was very lucky someone was there," Gaul said.
The Red Cross award noted that Gaul, who is trained in CPR and First Aid, immediately took action.
"Doctors later told [the co-worker] that he was lucky he was near someone who understood what to do, because even a few minutes without proper care could have been fatal," a news release stated.
The right response
The Red Cross also recognized Ohm for her immediate response on what she said started out as a normal, sunny day.
She was at her office at Wells busy answering business calls when she heard her name being paged.
A co-worker was having trouble breathing.
"I grabbed my bag and ran up the steps and by the time I got there, she was unconscious," Ohm said. "We got her down to the floor."
Ohm, who is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) of 23 years with the Le Mars Ambulance squad, recognized the signs in her co-worker of a cardiac emergency.
"I knew what was going to happen, just because of experience, and that's when I instructed one of the other gals to go get me the defibrillator off the wall in our café," Ohm said. "I remember telling myself, 'stay calm, stay calm.'"
By the time Ohm applied the AED (automated external defibrillator), she saw that her co-worker's condition had deteriorated.
"I did shock her one time, then we continued doing CPR until the ambulance got here," Ohm said, with tears springing to her eyes. "Her condition definitely needed that one shock, and I know without that AED she wouldn't be here today."
The Le Mars Police arrived on scene first, and Officer Jeff Kramer helped Ohm continue CPR.
"Jeff helped me take over a little bit, because CPR does make you tired," Ohm said.
Often the Le Mars Police are first on the scene and the ambulance crew is grateful for the aid the officers provide, she added.
Within minutes, the ambulance arrived.
The crew connected the woman to a monitor.
Her heart had a rhythm.
"You don't know the feeling I had when I saw that," Ohm said.
Ohm then helped the ambulance crew prepare to transport the woman to the hospital, but after it pulled away, she knew her job wasn't done.
Helping others along
Ohm remembered that during the time when she was using the AED and providing CPR, any time she looked up, she saw other co-workers crying.
"That was very emotional for all of them. I was very concerned about what they were feeling, not that it was an everyday occurrence for me, but I'd been through that type of scenario before," Ohm said. "A lot of them had questions of why and how and what I did and why I did."
She made sure she helped every one of them understand what had happened.
The Red Cross award recognized both Ohm's quick response and the way she helped co-workers process the incident.
"She spoke with other co-workers ... to make sure they were emotionally OK and to reinforce the need to take immediate action to get help in those situations."
Ohm drove to the hospital and was able to see that her co-worker was doing well before she was flown by helicopter to another hospital.
"I needed to know she was doing well," Ohm said. "That was very emotional for me."
As an EMT, Ohm had responded to many life-threatening situations, but this was the first time she helped save a co-worker's life at work.
It was also the first time she'd used the AED away from the ambulance.
"And it did save a life," she said.
Now Ohm and the co-worker see each other at work or send a quick message to check in.
"She still gets pretty emotional when she sees me," Ohm said.
Prepared to save
Both Ohm and Gaul encourage everyone to find ways to be prepared to respond to an emergency like these.
Gaul served for 13 years on the Le Mars Fire-Rescue Department and is an emergency coordinator at Wells, helping with emergency drills and preparedness.
He had also taken first responder training in the Navy.
Ohm had long had an interest in the medical field, and when Emergency Medical Services classes were offered, she decided to take the opportunity.
In 1990, she joined the local ambulance squad.
"I often call it my hobby," Ohm said, smiling. "People think it's a strange hobby. It's a very rewarding hobby."
Her picture and EMT status, along with other workplace responders' picture, is posted around Wells' campus on emergency posters to let people know who they can call in emergency situations.
"They do call, and I'm glad they do," she said.
While not everyone will be an EMT or emergency coordinator, even a little training can be crucial, the two Heroes of Heartland award recipients said.
"If anybody can learn anything about this, learn the warning signs," Gaul said. "Shooting pain in your arms, indigestion, and the denial."
When something like this happens, it's usually unexpected, he said.
"He's not what you picture as a heart attack candidate," Gaul said of his co-worker. "He's a pretty active guy."
Ohm also urged people to get at least a little training.
"Take a CPR class. Read anything you can. A lot of time there are advertisements in the paper about warning signs or stuff in the mail from the American Heart Association," she said. "Just keep yourself educated just to be prepared."
CPR has become easier – shifting away from mouth-to-mouth and solely focusing on chest compressions, Gaul said.
"Circulating the blood with the compressions is a big thing," Ohm said.
Gaul said he was surprised he received the Heroes of the Heartland award.
"I've always been taught to do what you can to help people, and that's what I did."
Ohm was also taken off guard when co-workers surprised her with the award at work, she commented, smiling.
"I was speechless," she said.