Oconee lawyers save secretary’s life
by AP News Now
September 15, 2012 12:00 AM | 517 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
WATKINSVILLE — When Karen Hemphill suddenly collapsed unconscious on the floor of the law office where she works, Shannon Coffey heard the fall, rushed to the woman’s side and felt for a pulse. There was none. Nor was she breathing.

Brian Cathey and Blaine Norris quickly entered the room.

For a fleeting quiet moment, the lawyers looked at each other.

Cathey said he remembered Coffey’s words: “We have to do something.”

And what happened next saved the life of Hemphill, a 54-year-old Jefferson woman, who is married with a son and two grandchildren.

“I’m impressed that on a moment’s notice the three were able to come up with a plan, coordinate action and save her life,” said long-time attorney Mark Wiggins of the law firm Wiggins, Norris & Coffey on Jennings Mill Road.

Wiggins was in Elbert County when he received a call from Norris about Hemphill’s collapse.

“I asked Blaine ‘What color is she?’ and he said ‘She’s the color of death.’”

Hemphill, a secretary, had a heart arrhythmia, a condition that can stop the flow of blood to the brain, the afternoon of Aug. 17. On many Friday afternoons, Hemphill was the only person in the office. Fortunately, others were there the day she momentarily died.

Cathey, a paralegal, recalled he was wrapping up the workday when he heard the thud.

“I heard Shannon yelling Karen’s name,” he recalled.

Hemphill was wedged between her desk and the wall.

“She was completely unconscious, so I started feeling for her pulse and I didn’t feel anything,” Coffey said. “I looked at her face and she was just blank.”

Norris and Cathey moved their co-worker to a carpeted floor. The lawyers said they knew the situation was dire.

“We were like, ‘We’re going to do this,’” Coffey said.

Cathey called 911, Norris started chest compressions and Coffey began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

“It was like 14 minutes before the ambulance got here, but we did it until they came,” said Coffey, whose last CPR class was in high school when she was in training for a lifeguard job.

Norris and Coffey kept asking the 911 operator if they were doing CPR correctly, so Cathey said he called his fiance for advice because she had recently taken a CPR course.

“The number of compressions we did (per minute) was unclear,” Coffey said. “I know we broke some of her ribs, but no one was panicking and that was good.”

When an Oconee County first responder arrived, he told the pair to continue their CPR while he hooked up a machine to give Hemphill electrical shocks designed to restore a heart beat.

When paramedics arrived, Hemphill was soon on board and as they left for the hospital, paramedics told them their patient’s heart was now beating.

This life-and-death situation left each of those involved with a sense of something important.

Hemphill, who returned to work last week, wants to emphasize to others the importance of heart screenings, something she is encouraging her family to do. She now wears a defibrillator.

“This shows how fragile life is,” Wiggins said. “We think we’re here forever.”
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