First responders lauded for saving lives

MRTSA recognized Cpl. Mike Shell, center, for saving a 12-year-old boy’s life on June 4. He reconnected with the boy and his family at an awards ceremony.

The call came in on June 4 that a 12-year-old boy had collapsed—possibly because of a diabetic issue—during the annual Run Through the Woods 5K at Hoover Elementary. But as Cpl. Mike Shell of the Mt. Lebanon Police Department got closer to the scene, he knew it was much worse.

He vividly recalls arriving at the school to see a woman leaning over the boy, performing CPR. The boy was in cardiac arrest. Shell immediately stepped in to continue compressions, as a crew from Medical Rescue Team South Authority (MRTSA) used an automatic defibrillator to shock the boy and ultimately save his life.

“I’ve been doing this job for 18 years now. We see this stuff—not every day—but we see this stuff, and typically it’s older people or middle-aged people. But the younger people and the kids, that stuff hits home,” Shell said.

The crew performed CPR and provided medicine for several minutes on-scene, before he started to breathe on his own and was transported to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, where he stayed for nine days before being released.

As the ambulance made its way to the hospital, Shell, himself the father of three young boys, reached out to the paramedic supervisor for an update.  “The best part about this is that a life was saved. Along with the medics and the hospital, it’s a total team effort,” Shell said.

On June 22 at MRTSA’s board meeting, Shell and seven EMS providers were recognized with the rare Life Saving Award for their efforts. There, Shell had the opportunity to meet the boy’s family and introduce them to his.

“It was a little surreal,” Shell said. “You don’t get to do that stuff very often. To see him and to see him doing well, that was awesome. Because the last time that I saw him was a lot different.”

MRTSA gives out the Life Saving Award to first responders who “provide care and get an outcome that does not happen every day… they assisted in bringing someone home,” Chief Josh Worth said.

Worth lauded the efforts of the first responders and a bystander for saving the boy’s life. The bystander recognizing that the boy was in cardiac arrest was an important first step.

“All of the studies, all of the data both nationally and locally, show that recognition is the first key step,” Worth said. Studies show that only 40 percent of lay people will start CPR when it’s needed, he added.

“The fact that someone was willing to do that was huge,” Worth said, adding that he’s hoping to identify the bystander and recognize her for her efforts.

First responders providing care on the scene until the boy was stable, instead of immediately transporting him to the hospital, also increased his chances of survival, according to Worth.

A very small number of patients who go into cardiac arrest outside of the hospital ultimately survive, the MRTSA chief noted.

For Shell, being recognized with the Life Saving Award was humbling. But the most important part was that he was able to help save someone’s life.

“I do this job and I enjoy this job because I’m able to help people and save lives,” Shell said. “I was just a small part of a larger group of people that helped him.”

The incident reinforces the need for people to get CPR training. MRTSA offers CPR training, and Worth encourages Mt. Lebanon residents to take the classes. Visit or call 412-343-5111.

“It’s something that anybody can do, and it’s very easy to do,” Shell said. “Anybody can save a life.”

More heroes MRTSA also recognized two of its EMS crews, along with the City of Pittsburgh EMS, Whitehall Fire Company and Pleasant Hills Volunteer Fire Company, with a Life Saving Award for an incident on Route 51 on May 4, where an 18-year-old driver hydroplaned and crashed into a telephone pole on his way to school. It took crews two hours to get him out of the heavily damaged vehicle. UPMC sent its physicians response unit to the scene and—for the first time in Pennsylvania—the crews gave the patient a whole blood transfusion while he was on the scene, trapped in his vehicle.