'It's OK to stop and help': Gurnee nursing student tends to unconscious woman in parking lot

 
 
Updated 3/16/2019 8:37 PM
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  • Gwen Gernenz and Cory Baker were presented with citizen's awards by Chief Craig S. Roepke of the Pleasant Prairie Fire and Rescue Department last month for their efforts in saving a woman in a Costco parking lot.

    Gwen Gernenz and Cory Baker were presented with citizen's awards by Chief Craig S. Roepke of the Pleasant Prairie Fire and Rescue Department last month for their efforts in saving a woman in a Costco parking lot. Courtesy of Pleasant Prairie Fire and Rescue Department

Gurnee resident and nursing student Gwen Gernenz said she's always looking for people to help.

"I think people go through life with blinders on, so they don't notice when others need help," Gernenz said.

Had she been wearing those blinders on a chilly January day when she arrived to her part-time job at Costco in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, a woman might have died.

In the parking lot, Gernenz noticed a woman lying facedown next to her car.

Gernenz instinctively rushed over to help and saw that the woman was bleeding.

She shouted to her husband Mike, a lieutenant at the Lake Bluff Fire Department and an EMT, to bring her some gloves.

By that point, onlookers had gathered around and she asked them to help her flip the woman over.

"I could tell that she hadn't been breathing and I checked her pulse and couldn't find one," Gernenz said.

Others had already called 911 by the time Gernenz started chest compressions on the woman to keep her blood flowing.

Soon after, a Costco employee rushed out with the store's defibrillator. Gernenz, her husband, and Cory Baker, another Costco employee who also serves as a volunteer firefighter and EMT, worked together to shock the woman's heart.

After the shock, Gernenz resumed chest compressions for a short time before the woman started breathing on her own.

"She was actually talking to us when the paramedics arrived," Gernenz said. "It feels like a long time, but this all happened in just minutes."

The woman was rushed to a hospital and has recovered from what was later determined to be cardiac arrest. Gernenz said the woman's best friend reached out to thank them for what they had done.

"Those are the kinds of things that really reassure me that I'm going into the right field and remind me why I'm doing it," Gernenz said. "It's a nice reminder for other people to know that it's OK to stop and help someone. You can't do anything wrong at that point. Anything you're doing is helping someone in a really bad situation."

Gernenz and Baker were presented with awards by Chief Craig S. Roepke of the Pleasant Prairie Fire and Rescue Department last month.

Gernenz said receiving the award was very humbling.

"I never stopped to question (whether) to help her," Gernenz said. "I wouldn't do anything different."

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