Quick action buys time for family farewells

Longview | June 14, 2017
A caregiver’s quick action saves a beloved teacher’s life long enough for her family to spend precious final days with her

For Tom Burckhardt, an RN and complex case manager at PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center in Longview, Washington, it might have been just business as usual, except it wasn’t.

He made a follow-up call to Sandra McGhee, one of his patients, to see how she was doing after her stay in the hospital. She said she “was not doing too good.”

Despite Burckhardt’s attempts to find out more, she couldn’t give any more detail than “I don’t feel well.”

When she didn’t respond to further questions or even to her name, Burckhardt knew something was up. He immediately called 911 to request an emergent ambulance response for the patient.

As a former 911 dispatcher himself for nearly seven years before becoming a nurse, Burckhardt was able to provide the information that would help expedite the emergency response. He even made a follow-up call with the 911 Communications Center on their non-emergent phone line with her emergency contact information in case responders needed someone to assist them in making an entry into the house.

The ambulance and police were already on the scene and in contact with McGhee, who was bleeding internally from a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm that had previously been stable. They rushed her to PeaceHealth St. John where she was evaluated and taken into emergency surgery. Her life was saved . . . at least for the time being.

Because of this gift of time, her family was able to make it from out of town to the hospital and visit with her in the emergency room prior to being taken into surgery.  McGhee had the chance to tell her two daughters that if she didn’t make it, they should know how much she loved them.

Sadly, she passed a few days later. Yet the sadness of her passing had a silver lining, according to her daughter, Karen Weise. McGhee, a beloved Longview teacher, did not die alone at home. Instead, she was surrounded by the warmth and love of her family at the end.

Even though his actions made a life-saving difference at the time, Burckhardt feels it was just part of his job and humbly shares, “It really is about all of us (as caregivers) and is a reminder of the impact we have, daily, on the lives of those around us.”

In a card to Burckhardt, McGhee's family gratefully noted, “You gave her family the opportunity to see her, spend time with her, tell her how much we loved her, and to be with her in her final moments of life. That is truly a gift made possible by you, and we are ever thankful to you.”