BAUMHOLDER, Germany – An already tough day for two 30th Medical Brigade Soldiers attending qualification for the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge turned into a scramble between life and death when a Soldier experienced a medical emergency on Aug. 2 at the base pool in Baumholder, Germany.
Sitting poolside after completing the first iteration of swimming, Capt. Lauren Gobar, 519th Hospital Center clinical nurse officer-in-charge of the emergency medical treatment section, and Staff Sgt. Texas Hobbs, 519th healthcare NCO, were watching the events of the day when they both spotted a Soldier in distress.
Cpl. Eric Evans, 44th Expeditionary Signal Battalion-Enhanced network communications systems specialist, had finished the last part of the GAFB swim test and was underwater when something went wrong.
"I remember, I think, setting the shirt on the side of the pool, and then I just remember going underwater to, you know, just playfully going underwater, looking around the pool," said Evans. "That's when everything got hazy."
The ‘haze’ occurred because Evans suffered a transient ischemic attack, or mini-stroke, and lost consciousness underwater.
“I thought he’s passed out originally,” said Hobbs. “Then we slowly started to realize it’s more serious.”
When they got to Evans, he was unconscious, but breathing. He had a pulse, but soon after the medical professionals assessment, Evans' pulse began to weaken.
The duo followed the basic life support algorithm, Gobar said. "The patient started to deteriorate and we recognized that he needed CPR and we just continued with iterations of CPR including someone going to get the defibrillator, drying off the patient, placing him on the defibrillator, and just monitoring his pulse and breathing."
Gobar, Hobbs and others on scene continued BLS procedures for approximately 20 minutes before a German ambulance arrived.
“When you are providing BLS, all you have is a mask to give rescue breaths and maybe an [automated external defibrillator], which became available later in the process, then you have your team members and we really had nothing else available,” said Gobar.
Gobar quickly realized they needed to secure Evans’ airway and they needed an airway adjunct. Hobbs and Gobar found a Soldier who had an airway in their vehicle.
“The fact that someone had an airway adjunct and we were able to place that I think that was probably a difference maker for him and his outcome,” said Gobar. She added inserting the adjunct probably saved the Soldier’s life. An unconscious person may have a hard time protecting or maintaining an airway, and this device allows medical professionals a way to do that.
While managing the situation Gobar, Hobbs and two other people were taking two-minute turns giving the Soldier CPR for 15 to 20 minutes, but felt much longer to the nurse.
“Eternity. It was an eternity,” said Gobar. “We had to switch out. Two minutes. Two minutes. And two minutes is a long time. We had to keep everyone calm and remember how to give good chest compressions. That is what I could really focus on.”
As the German ambulance and doctor arrived, Gobar and Hobbs continued to work and treat the Soldier in conjunction with the local German medical teams by inserting an IV, intubating Evans and placing an intraosseous access line, which is similar to an IV but is placed in the patient’s bone to administer fluids and medications.
Staff Sergeant Hobbs helped the paramedics place the IO.
“You can imagine in order to access someone’s bone you have to use a drill, and an IO isn’t something you just do by the pool, you know, unless someone is really sick,” said Gobar.
When the German medical team arrived, the first obstacles to Evans’ recovery were to overcome the language barrier and to marry up how Germans and Americans practiced medicine.
“They came in and they allowed for us to stay with our patient,” said Gobar.
“It is difficult when you have a different word for different things,” added Hobbs. “So we call it an IV and they may call it something different.”
As soon as they had stabilized Evans, the team loaded the Solider into the ambulance and transported him to a local hospital in Idar-Oberstein, Germany. He was eventually transferred to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.
Evans remembers nothing after his vision went hazy in the pool.
“The next thing I know I woke up in Landstuhl hospital three days later on Aug. 5,” said Evans. “I was told by a doctor that I flatlined and was clinically dead, but I guess I ended up stabilizing.”
Training kicks in
“I have never dealt with a medical emergency outside of a hospital,” Gobar said. “You know, you hear it happen sometimes but I never knew how I might react.”
Gobar was later told by another Soldier attending the event that one minute she was sitting, they looked away for a second and when the Soldier looked back, she was already at the scene of the emergency.
This reaction and ability to help treat the patient without having a second thought came from their training.
“It happens because you’ve been taught to do it and we train every year,” said Hobbs. “I was supposed to do this. What we do is this - to this- to this- to this- helped us because we knew what to do.”
The 30th Medical Brigade practices BLS and other lifesaving skills monthly, said Gobar.
“We’re an emergency medical treatment center,” said Gobar. “This is our bread and butter. When we go out as a section and train together, these are the kinds of things we’re going over.”
Life after the emergency
Following the events of that day, Gobar and Hobbs were offered the chance to continue in the next portion of the Proficiency Badge or go home for the day.
“We needed to try and keep going . We needed to try and continue our mission,” said Gobar. “I tried to communicate that to [Staff] Sgt. Hobbs, this might be hard and we’re really drained and emotionally exhausted. I said this guy, we don’t know what his outcome is going to be but he’s a Soldier. He was here trying to do something hard, he would probably want us to finish what we started today.”
When experiencing an event like this, Gobar said it is hard to not question if they followed all the proper procedures or if they missed any steps..
“I’ve had to think about it a lot,” Gobar said, reflecting
Gobar and Hobbs said their fellow medical professionals assured them there was nothing more they could have done with the resources they had available.
Evans is currently at Walter Reed Medical Center, Maryland, continuing his recovery. He said he counts his blessings he is still alive.
“Captain Gobar said that anytime she’s done CPR on patients or anybody, nine times out of 10, they don’t make it,” said Evans. “That really put things into perspective.”
Evans wanted all the people who saved his life to know how grateful he is.
“Thank you,” said Evans. “This definitely has been a life-changing experience and I am here still living because of them.”