'Thank goodness for our training': How 2 suburban students saved runner who collapsed in Chicago

Long-distance running races are not commonly associated with teamwork.

But at the June 5 Bank of America Chicago 13.1 half marathon, the teamwork of Arlington Heights native Nicole Pinakidis and former Barrington resident Kristin Brennan played an essential role in saving the life of a man who collapsed in the final stretch.

Brennan applied chest compressions while Pinakidis used training she received as a lifeguard with the Arlington Heights Park District to administer a shock with an automated external defibrillator.

Their efforts revived the runner, a man in his 50s. He then was taken to a hospital, where “last we heard, all was well,” Pinakidis said.

Brennan and Pinakidis, who now live in Chicago, are enrolled in Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine's physician assistant program. They had volunteered for the pre-finish line surveillance team that monitored runners in the final 600 meters of the half marathon.

“We basically were stationed with the medical team,” said Pinakidis, a Buffalo Grove High School graduate. “They had a station near the finish because that's where a lot of medical emergencies will happen.”

Brennan, a runner who graduated from Barrington High School, said she knows the last stretch of a race can be the toughest both mentally and physically.

“Runners are often inclined to push themselves to their limits to make it to the finish line,” she said.

The man who collapsed went into cardiac arrest about 300 meters from the finish. His wife, an anesthesiologist, began applying chest compressions until Brennan arrived and took over.

“I immediately let her know that I was present and willing to tap in for her because she was a family member,” she said.

Meanwhile, Pinakidis, who was stationed nearby with the AED, put her lifeguard training to work.

“Every week, if not every other week, we were doing AED training,” she said. “I was very well aware of what you do with an AED. I just kind of went into autopilot, knowing how to get that process going while Kristin was doing compressions.”

After Pinakidis applied an initial shock, CPR continued for another two minutes. At that point, Pinakidis said, “there was no shock advised (by the AED), meaning we had essentially revived this runner.”

Steve Neill, superintendent of recreation facilities for the Arlington Heights Park District, trained Pinakidis in the use of the AED more than a decade ago.

“I've been teaching lifeguards now for well over 30 years. Nikki is not the first and, unfortunately, she probably won't be the last who has used her training in a (nonaquatic) setting to help save a life,” he said. “I've had people do it in restaurants. I've had people do it on school buses. And now at the Chicago half marathon. It's a good feeling to know that (you are) able to train people and they're able to retain the skills and they are able to put it into action when they need to.”

Brennan is in her second year in the physician assistant program, while Pinakidis was on the eve of her first day of class when the emergency happened.

“Thank goodness for our training,” Brennan said. “Because, if you are trained well, you can just do what you were trained to do and hope for the best outcome. And he had the best outcome that we could have hoped for.”

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