Citizens earn life-saver award

FAIRMONT – Usually at 8:30 a.m. on a snowy weekday in January, April Poolman would already be seeing patients, Bruce Saxton would be returning his bus to the Minnesota Motor bus garage, and Walt Anacker would not be out shoveling his driveway.

Anacker, 87, does not wait for the light of day to clear snow. He is a retired street superintendent, so getting up early is embedded in him. His is the first driveway and sidewalk on the block to be cleared, usually by 6 a.m., according to Saxton, a neighbor.

But on Jan. 30, Anacker was out shoveling later than usual, Poolman was running behind schedule, and Saxton decided to stop home for a quick cup of coffee. As it turns out, the timing of these events was essential in saving Anacker’s life.

On Monday, Poolman and Saxton were given Lifesaving Awards by the City of Fairmont.

“She played it so cool,” said Police Chief Greg Brolsma, describing the 911 call Poolman made when she spotted Anacker’s laying motionless in his driveway. “She sounded like she’s done this 20-30 times.”

Anacker’s brown coat is what caught her eye as she hurried that morning to get to work at Mayo Clinic Health Systems in Fairmont. She pulled a u-turn and picked up her phone. Her voice was clear and calm on the 911 call, and she kept her message concise: “There’s a gentleman laying in the road; a snow shovel is beside him.” She gave the street address and hung up. Stopping her car in the street, she jumped out and ran to help the stranger who had not yet moved since she’d first seen him.

“He wasn’t breathing, he had no pulse,” Poolman said to the Sentinel as she sat across from Anacker during an interview.

“I tried to talk to you,” she told Anacker. “They say that hearing is the last thing to leave people. I wanted you to know I wasn’t trying to hurt you.”

CPR – if you’re doing it right – is painful, often causing bruised and broken ribs. It’s also a lot of work, requiring serious physical exertion on the part of the person giving it.

Around the time Poolman began chest compressions, Saxton was finishing his cup of coffee. As he got back into his bus, he took notice of Poolman’s car, illegally parked, and then he saw a woman attempting to resuscitate his neighbor.

Saxton – a retired emergency medical technician of 25 years and a former CPR instructor – ran to help. The technique used that day was different from what he’d taught, but he quickly caught on to the pattern and was able to assist with rescue breathing while Poolman continued with chest compressions.

“She just amazed me,” Saxton said. “She was so focused.”

Soon Fairmont Police arrived, and Officer Paul Fordice took over with the compressions, while his fellow officers used an AED – automated external defibrillator – to attempt to restore Anacker’s heart rhythm. Shortly thereafter, Gold Cross arrived.

“Long story short, in just a matter of minutes, a great effort was done and it saved the life of Walt,” said Brolsma.

The lifesaving effort was a reminder for all of the importance of CPR – for professionals and the layperson.

Saxton, when he used to teach CPR, liked to tell his students at the end of class that the $10 they had just spent was “probably the best life insurance you can buy for your family and friends.”

Kris Keltgen with the local Gold Cross said of the half million deaths caused each year by cardiac arrest, as many as half could have been prevented with early CPR.

Thanks to the people who so quickly came to Anacker’s aid, no brain damage was done, and he’s been able to resume his regular activities.

“I shoveled this morning,” he reported Monday.