City honors medical student for lifesaving CPR

A Stanford medical student was recently recognized for her lifesaving action in preforming CPR on a man who had gone into sudden cardiac arrest.

Palo Alto Fire Chief Eric Nickel (left) and Police Chief Dennis Burns with Laura Lu, a medical student who was recognized by the city for helping to save the life of a man suffering a cardiac arrest.
Palo Alto Fire Department

A few months ago, as Laura Lu rummaged through her childhood things, she came across a note her 8-year-old self had written in large block letters: “When I grow up I want to be a heart docter [sic].”

On Oct. 17, that same girl, now a third-year medical student at the School of Medicine, was recognized by the city of Palo Alto for performing lifesaving CPR.

The health emergency that led to this honor occurred last spring.

Lu had only her upcoming board examinations in mind when she stepped into a printing and shipping store in Palo Alto on April 22 to drop off a textbook she wanted to get rebound. She returned for pickup a few hours later and heard some commotion behind the counter. When one of the managers of the store yelled, “Does anyone know CPR?” she dropped her backpack and rushed over. She found an employee, a man in his 40s, collapsed on the ground, without a pulse and not breathing. Quickly, she began performing the resuscitation technique.

The employee had suffered a sudden cardiac arrest — a condition in which the heart abruptly stops beating and blood stops flowing to the brain and other organs. If not treated within a few minutes, the condition often results in death. 

‘Completely fine a few hours earlier’

“I remember seeing him when I dropped off my book in the morning,” Lu said. “That was part of the shock; he was completely fine a few hours earlier, and suddenly he was pulseless and not breathing.”

She continued to perform CPR, taking turns doing chest compressions with a bystander who also rushed over to help. Lu guided the other woman through the steps of CPR. “I wish I had caught her name so that she could also be recognized for her contributions,” Lu said.

Without her there at that time, I don’t believe the victim would have survived.

Soon after, paramedics with the Palo Alto Fire Department arrived and took over. They defibrillated the patient a few times, gave him cardiac medications and attempted to open up his airway. 

A fire department captain, Jesse Aguilar, was among members of the rescue team. “When I walked in, I could tell that Laura was well-trained,” he said. According to him, Lu needed no instructions from the dispatcher on how to perform CPR. “Without her there at that time, I don’t believe the victim would have survived, because as the studies show, early, aggressive CPR is what saves lives,” he added.

By the time the paramedics brought the patient to a hospital, his pulse had returned. And a few days later, he walked out of the hospital with no permanent deficits from the incident, according to Palo Alto Fire Chief Eric Nickel.

But Lu didn’t know that. “I was nervous, and I wasn’t sure if he had survived,” Lu said. “The adrenaline rush of not knowing is so hard to describe. I was sad and confused at the same time.”

A few months later, she received a call from the Palo Alto Fire Department. Nickel told her that the man had survived and was back at work. They wanted to recognize her at the next city council meeting. “I was flabbergasted,” Lu said.

“The person’s greatest chance of survival is that citizen bystander CPR,” Nickel said. “As a fire chief, it’s great to know that we have this amazing community with a lot of extra rescuers out there, not just the ones that show up in the fire engine and ambulance.”

Lu said that it was the first time she performed CPR on a person. Previously, she had only trained on mannequins. “This experience reminded me how important the information that we learn in class can actually be because you never know when something like this will happen and how you can be of help,” she said.

Lu is currently a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Research Fellow and conducting research in bone fracture healing.

“We just want to congratulate her,” Aguilar said. “Her efforts made all the difference.”



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