RICHMOND, Va. — In the final months of 2021, Capt. John C. Hemby, a company commander in the Virginia National Guard’s Recruiting and Retention Battalion, helped save three lives.
Hemby’s lifesaving streak started in November. While waiting on his curbside lunch order in Chesterfield, Hemby heard a commotion.
“I was waiting on my order and looked over to my right to see that a woman was screaming, ‘Help, help, help my child,’” he said. “We made eye contact, and I immediately got out of my car and ran over to her.”
Hemby looked at the toddler and noticed her eyes were rolling back. Quickly, Hemby assessed the child with the head-tilt/chin-lift and checked her mouth for an obstruction.
“I turned her around and started doing the Heimlich over my knee a couple of times until the food came out,” he said.
Hemby, who formerly served as a combat medic specialist, said placing a child over the knee is the best technique for assisting smaller kids who may be choking.
“You don’t want to go behind a child and perform the Heimlich like you would a normal adult because you could end up injuring them even more,” he said. “I just really focused on the little girl’s welfare and making sure she was able to breathe.”
After aiding the child, Hemby stayed with the family until emergency personnel arrived.
A few weeks later, at the gym, Hemby again answered a panicked call.
“I’m minding my own business because nobody is asking for help,” he said. “So, I didn’t think anything of it. A few minutes later, the front desk associate started screaming for a doctor or medical professional, and I immediately stopped what I was doing and ran over to assist.”
Hemby was joined by a pediatric nurse and an emergency medical technician. A man had apparently hit his head after falling from a treadmill and was unconscious. When Hemby reached him, he wasn’t breathing and his pulse was weak. It appeared he’d had a heart attack, and the ad hoc response team started chest compressions.
“When I got there, he was on the floor unconscious and unresponsive, so I immediately did AVPU,” he said. AVPU, Hemby explained, stands for the steps taken to help identify the cause of distress in an injured person. “You check to see if the person is alert, verbal, in pain, and unresponsive. If they are unresponsive, you start compressions.”
As the EMT started chest compressions and the nurse stayed on the line with 911, Hemby grabbed and employed the closest automated external defibrillator, or AED. This device diagnoses and analyzes the heart and can deliver a shock to help restore normal heart rhythm. Hemby said you just need to know where to place the pads, and the AED does the rest of the work. The AED rendered a shock to the unconscious man.
“He started breathing again,” said Hemby. “You could see his chest and abdomen fall up and down, but it wasn’t enough, so the AED assessed the man again and sent another shock, and at that point, he started coming around.”
The experience, Hemby said, was heavy.
“It’s a lot of pressure when their loved ones are literally looking at you while you are trying to help,” he said.
Finally, after a third assessment, the AED read “clear” and discontinued treatment.
“The man was coherent and able to respond through verbal cues,” Hemby said. “You could see his chest rise and fall and his lips were turning back to normal. We all stayed with him until the ambulance arrived.”
A few weeks later, as Hemby was headed home from work, he noticed a vehicle on the side of the interstate with debris around it. Initially, he thought maybe the vehicle had a tire blowout.
“As soon as I got closer, I saw that the vehicle was smoking and the driver was still inside,” he said. “The entire left side of the vehicle was wrecked. I immediately pulled over to help.”
The driver was dazed with a huge gash over his right eyebrow, bleeding profusely. Unable to get the driver’s attention or open the car door, Hemby pulled out his multitool and used the glass penetrator to break the driver’s window and open the door. He quickly performed a medical evaluation, being careful to check for any neck trauma, and then pulled the man a safe distance away from the smoking car.
As Hemby dragged the man to safety, another passing motorist stopped to assist. Hemby ran to his vehicle, grabbed his first aid kit, and started administering aid. By this point, the injured driver was becoming more cognizant, and Hemby kept him talking as he applied a pressure dressing to the man’s head wound while the other motorist called 911.
“The man was starting to feel cold; he had lost a good amount of blood,” Hemby said. “So, I tried to keep him warm and conscious until the ambulance arrived to take him to the hospital.”
As a friend pointed out, over two months, Hemby proved to be the right guy, in the right place, at the right time. He spent 12 years of his National Guard career in the medical field and said the training he received over those years helped prepare him to react quickly and appropriately in times of crisis.
“Take what you learn seriously, because whether you’re in the [dining facility] or the gym, wherever you are, there may be somebody that needs your help,” he said. “And God forbid you fall short that day; you will always look at that moment and say, ‘I should’ve been paying more attention, if only I took the extra 30 seconds, things may have been different.’”
Hemby said he plans on recertifying his EMT license, just in case his heroic streak continues.
“It’s kind of like the hallmark of the National Guard,” Hemby said. “We’re always Citizen-Soldiers, looking out for our fellow Americans.”