Coordinated, compassionate care
On the morning of June 1, visitors from across the nation streamed in to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs to celebrate the graduation of more than 900 cadets. The elaborate ceremony included a commencement address by President Biden and a spectacular Thunderbirds flyover.
Just before the start of the 9:30 a.m. event, a call came in to UCHealth Memorial Hospital North. The father of a cadet went into apparent cardiac arrest while rushing to get inside Falcon Stadium. An ambulance was bringing him to the hospital.
The team at Memorial North not only would save his life that morning, but also would ensure the patient and his family could witness the moment their cadet walked across the stage to shake the president’s hand.
“EMS reported to us he went into full cardiac arrest outside the stadium gate on the Air Force Academy and a bystander started CPR,” said Sharon Branham, who was the nursing house supervisor at Memorial North that day.
“Our cardiology team was present as he rolled in… we whisked him off, and away he went to the cath lab,” Branham recalled.
As part of the cardiac response team, hospital chaplains focus on making sure families understand the rapidly changing information that occurs during a health crisis. “As I spoke with the family in the ED, it was clear they would miss the graduation service,” recalled Ruth McIntyre, chaplain supervisor at Memorial North.
In the midst of the emergency, another call came to the hospital: The president’s personal physician, Dr. Kevin C. O’Connor, was on his way to personally check on the patient at the request of President Biden. Because of the level of security present at the graduation, the president’s team was immediately alerted to the situation, O’Connor explained.
The ICU on the fourth floor, meanwhile, was getting ready to receive the patient after the cath lab procedure. Nurse Jeremy Kahl said the team knew exactly which room the patient needed to be in: 4106 – the one that had a clear view of the Air Force Academy.
“I’m glad that room was open,” said Cara White, who was the charge nurse that day. “Patient placement put him in a different room, and we were ‘no, no …. Please move him,’ ” she said.
Added Kahl: “As we were getting him ready, and he was coming up, we got word on top of it all that President Biden’s personal physician was coming to check on him. Well, that was kind of different!”
The ICU team that day, which also included RNs Stephanie Colman and Connie Klingsick, turned the patient’s bed so he could see the stadium. Chaplain McIntyre brought in an iPAD so the patient and his family could watch the academy’s livestream of the ceremony.
“As his son graduated, everyone clapped and cheered for him,” White said. “It was overwhelming. It was really a touching moment. I cried. From my perspective – that’s what we do, we make those little moments.”
McIntyre said it was wonderful to assist the family in having a meaningful memory of their son’s graduation.
“The family expressed their gratitude in everyone working together to care for the patient and their intended goal of watching their son graduate,” McIntyre said. “We worked hard as a team to make sure that the patient’s health care crisis would not stop the family from attending their son’s graduation.”
O’Connor was there, too, to celebrate with the patient and his family.
“The president cared deeply about the welfare of the cadet’s dad,” O’Connor said, in recalling the day. “I was free to go and give him (President Biden) some firsthand representation. We knew this was going on and saw an opportunity to do what I knew the president would want – which was give him some personal attention.”
And O’Connor even made a follow-up call to Branham later that evening after he and the president arrived back in Washington, D.C. “The doctor did call back – that was nice. He said, ‘Air Force One wheels down, and I’d like to get an update on the patient so I can update the president.’”