It was just a routine roommate run to Costco. But having stocked up on the basics in bulk and now standing in the checkout line, 2019 College of Nursing graduates Jessie Haylor, Summer Sobotka and Sarah Spielman heard and saw a commotion a few lanes over.
“A guy just drops to the floor a few aisles over from us and someone starts yelling, ‘Is there a doctor in the building? We need a doctor!’” Spielman recalls. “And we’re thinking to ourselves, ‘Is someone going to help?’ And we’re looking around.”
And then the roommates and future nurses realized: they were the help.
“We just threw everything — purses, cell phones, everything — into the cart and ran,” Haylor says.
On the floor, the trio discovered Skip Swoboda, a 74-year-old Omahan, somewhat alert but in severe distress with shortness of breath, tightness in the chest. The student nurses knew a heart attack when they saw one.
Spielman knelt next to Swoboda, took a pulse and began calling for aspirin. A woman in the gathering crowd came forward.
“And these were not baby aspirin,” Sobotka says. “These were the big pills.”
Anything in a crisis, Spielman thought, and popped an aspirin into Swoboda’s mouth, telling him to chew it up well, a strategy that helps ensure quicker delivery of the aspirin into the bloodstream. Spielman asked if Swoboda had hit his head in his fall to the floor and, blessedly, he had not.
“I was really worried about that pulse, though,” she says. “It was thready when we first got there, and I didn’t know if the aspirin was going to work. He was going downhill fast.”
But within moments of chewing and swallowing the aspirin, Spielman felt Swoboda’s pulse strengthen.
In the meantime, someone had called 911 and another woman in the crowd said her husband, an emergency-room doctor, was elsewhere in the store and she was going to track him down. Sobotka and Haylor came alongside Skip Swoboda’s wife, Marie, with whom he’d come to the store.
“She was obviously having a hard time with it,” Sobotka says.
“We just held her and made sure she was OK,” Haylor remembers.
The ER doctor was located and rushed to the scene. He applauded the student nurses for their work and gave a dire prognosis.
Recalls Spielman: “Even though Skip was still responsive, the doc said it was a full-on STEMI” — an ST-segment elevated myocardial infarction, one of the deadliest types of heart attack — “and he hooked Skip to an AED and you could see it happening.”
Though the student nurses attending to him said Skip Swoboda’s eyes stayed open and he was responsive during the ordeal, Swoboda remembers only brief moments of what happened. What he recalls most is a feeling of gratitude that, although he wasn’t feeling well that day, he accompanied his wife to Costco.
“It was the best decision I ever made,” Swoboda says, a smile in his voice. “I didn’t stay home. Those nurses were there at Costco, that rescue squad came. It all happened right for me. It’s one of those things where you’re thankful to the Maker.”
Swoboda was rushed to the hospital, where it was determined that, despite no previous warning signs and an active lifestyle — he’s at the gym at least three times a week — he had a complete blockage of his right coronary artery. Surgeons performed an immediate procedure and declared there was no lingering damage to his heart.
“They said that’s attributable to the aspirin,” he says. “So, another thing to be grateful for.”
Marie Finley Swoboda, BA’67, was so moved by the quick action of the Creighton students that she wrote a letter to the College of Nursing lauding the work of the faculty in preparing such well-equipped practitioners and the students who didn’t think twice about putting those skills to work.
It’s not the Swobodas’ first brush with Creighton or the College of Nursing. Their daughter, Julie Swoboda Hadland, BSN’94, is a College of Nursing graduate now working in Milwaukee, and Marie earned a bachelor’s degree in 1967.
“They did such a good job and we are so thankful they were there,” Marie says.
Following their Creighton graduation, Haylor, Sobotka and Spielman are all employed as nurses. Haylor is at CHI Health Creighton University Medical Center-Bergan Mercy’s neonatal intensive care unit, Spielman is at a critical-access clinic in Montana, awaiting passage of her board examinations in California, and Sobotka is on a cardiology floor at a hospital in Des Moines, Iowa.
All three also cited their Creighton training in being able to help that day.
“I think at Creighton, you get the lesson that it’s something you would never not do,” Spielman says. “It’s your calling, your profession. It’s your passion to help others.”
Learn more about Nursing degrees and programs at Creighton and how you can make a difference in someone’s life.