Nurses running Naperville half marathon ‘saviors’ for runner who collapsed

Among all the volunteer medical personnel staffing the inaugural Edward Hospital Naperville Marathon and Half Marathon on Sunday, it was three nurses actually running the race who are being credited with saving a life.

Two Edward nurses and their training buddy were nearing the midpoint of the half marathon when they saw a man on the ground.

Amy Prendel, a North Central College employee and the only non-nurse in the group, said she initially wasn’t sure if the man near Mile 6 in Springbrook Prairie Forest Preserve needed help. She said she’s heard of runners going into sudden cardiac arrest during races but hadn’t encountered it along a course herself.

“At first I thought he was just tired,” Prendel said.

Her sister, Stephanie Chang, and friend Traci Iarrobino, both Edward nurses, thought better and checked on his condition.

“We shook him, felt for a pulse,” Chang said.

The man, whom race organizers and Edward Hospital officials are not yet identifying, was blue in the face and took what the third runner/nurse to come to his rescue called “a couple crummy breaths.”

Merri Lazenby, an emergency room nurse at Delnor Hospital in Geneva, wasn’t running with Chang, Iarrobino and Prendel on purpose but rather sticking with the half marathon pace for a 2:30 finish.

Seeing the runner down, Lazenby stopped to help the other nurses complete three rounds of CPR and call 911.

“We’ve never done CPR outside of a clinical setting,” Chang said.

The nurses said they were glad for each other’s company and assistance as they waited for EMTs to arrive.

Sgt. Steve Schindlbeck of the Naperville Police Department said a park district police officer got to the scene first on an ATV that was equipped with an automatic external defibrillator, a device that restarts the heart when a person has a heart attack or goes into cardiac arrest.

The group used the machine to revive the man before other medical responders arrived, Schindlbeck said. It worked and soon the man was breathing, talking and thinking about running again, the nurses said.

“He actually was responding and said he wanted to finish the race,” Lazenby said.

Race officials would have none of it and the man was taken to Edward Hospital, where he was listed in fair condition Sunday evening. A hospital spokesman said the man is declining to be interviewed by the media.

The nurses and Prendel, meanwhile, ran the rest of the race together and finished in about 2:50.

“After what happened, I didn’t really care if I got a medal,” Lazenby said. “But my pace group leader gave up his sign and stayed with me and said ‘you’re going to finish.’”

Marathon Medical Director Dr. Michael Hartmann said the man’s possible cardiac arrest was the most severe health problem during the race. He credited the nurses and paramedics with taking the right actions to keep the man alive, calling the on-course medical personnel — both those running and volunteering — the “saviors of the day.”

Five other people were transported to Edward’s emergency room during the race. Personnel at the main medical tent and 16 aid stations along the routes treated runners for hypothermia, dehydration and muscle and joint pains that are common among runners, Hartmann said.

Marathoners’ finishing thoughts

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