Off-duty nurse helps perform CPR to save the life of her friend during ziplining excursion

By Gina Mayfield

For Pamela Seamans, the last weekend in September always brings with it an adventure of sorts for her and her girlfriends, most in their 50s. “We’ve always taken an annual girls’ trip, and we always try to find something that’s a little, you know … edgy,” she says with smile.

September 2022 proved no different with a three-hour drive to the Catskills for an excursion that would involve a little more than just leaf peeping. By day three of the trip, they had already conquered so much, including pedaling their way on rail bikes through the woods of the Catskill Mountains. After breakfast, they made their way to the local ski lodge to hit the zip lines. Music played as they suited up in zipline gear and headed to the top of the mountain on a ski lift for a quick rundown of what to expect. “It was a little unnerving at first because we thought we were going to do some casual ziplining,” Pamela says. “This was a 610-foot cliff.”

Pamela volunteered to go first, soon followed by her friend Mary. “She did something kind of funny. She kind of did this little look, like she passed out. But she came right back around and was talking to us. We wondered what was going on at first, and watched her, but she said nothing about chest pain,” Pamela says. Knowing Mary’s fear of heights – “she’s petrified,” says Pamela – and understanding what a challenge the course was, they chalked it up to a little blip.

“I’m a nurse of over 30 years. I’ve been in critical care. I teach American Heart Association ACLS and BLS. I was watching Mary, and she was really good. So we did lots of challenging things, and we were finally approaching the launch spot of our last zipline,” Pamela says. That’s when they all heard Mary say, “I think I’m going to pass out,” before she fell to the ground.

Pamela ran to her and immediately could see Mary’s ear turning “as blue as blue could be” through her helmet. Pamela turned her over on her back, and initially thought Mary had an aortic aneurysm that had ruptured because her color turned so quickly. If that were the case, there would be little she could do. “I didn’t know,” Pamela says and decided to do what she could. “So I yelled out, ‘I’m starting CPR!’ thinking that I was going to get a bunch of people to go, ‘Oooh, I know that!’” Nobody budged.

She asked if there was an AED and instructed the crowd to call 911. Pamela started CPR and after several minutes made a plea to the crowd, “I am not going to be able to sustain this. I’m going to need somebody to help.” Two people stepped forward, one who had never taken a CPR class and one who did many years earlier. Pamela said to that second person, “That’s fine. I’m going to talk you through everything.” So she did.

“I told him, ‘As soon as I go to do my breaths, I need you to place your hands exactly where mine are,’” Pamela says. “I gave her two breaths and said, ‘Okay start. I’ll adjust you if I need to.’ I count my blessings. He was phenomenal. I couldn’t have asked for a better person.”

He continued compressions while Pamela used a pair of bandage scissors to remove Mary’s clothing, just in time for the arrival of the AED. “When we stood clear, she was in a shockable rhythm, so we were able to administer that first shock,” Pamela says. Then came more compressions and breaths, and Mary had a very faint heartbeat. “So we all started rallying and yelling for her – Mary, you can fight! – and you could see things changing,” Pamela says.

One of the local guides was holding Mary’s hand, and he said he could feel her hand getting warm, then she squeezed his hand and he could feel her heartbeat becoming stronger and faster. “The next thing you know, she was trying to sit up,” Pamela says. Just then, the EMTs arrived – 30 minutes after the call went out to 911. “Being a healthcare worker, I have never had anybody I’ve worked on for 30 minutes not only survive, but survive with no deficits,” Pamela says. But that’s what happened to Mary because two people who knew CPR intervened on her behalf.

Because this incident happened “on a mountain in the middle of nowhere,” as Pamela says, Mary had to be transported in the rescue basket of an ATV to a cleared parking lot where a medical helicopter landed to rush her to Albany Medical Center.

Pamela eventually reconnected with the man who helped her, and he shared a moment from their rescue that really stuck with him. Pamela had said to him, “Listen, you are her heart right now, and I’m her lungs. We are the only things that are physically keeping her alive.” The man said to Pamela, “I didn’t realize how important, and what a huge impact CPR truly, truly makes if you do it right.”

Late that night, the girls got a call – from Mary herself. “We all just started screaming,” Pamela recalls. Mary had a widow-maker heart attack, was in the Critical Care Unit, but could see visitors the next morning. With the image of Mary’s blank stare still fresh in her mind, Pamela walked into that hospital room. “As soon as I saw her, that’s when it really, finally sunk in. It was her eyes. She’s got these beautiful, beautiful blue eyes. That was one of the very first telltale signs that told me she was coming back while we were working on her. So when I walked in and I saw her eyes and that blue … . She just started crying when she saw me and vice versa.”

Plans are already in the works for next year’s girls trip – one not quite so “edgy.” In the meantime, they’ve all gotten together with their families to learn CPR, and Pamela is back teaching CPR at her hospital. “I now have a story, a truly awesome story. I tell my classes, ‘Listen, this is a gift this hospital is giving you. I worked on a very good friend of mine for 30 minutes, and it made a difference. I turned her around, and we still have her today. CPR is something you want to know.’”