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Published on May 04, 2022

Bryan Health Nurse, St. Paul Man Reunite a Year After Life-Threatening Cardiac Arrest

On May 1, 2021, Taylor Arndt was a bridesmaid in a Lincoln wedding. It was a welcome celebration during a lull in the pandemic. Taylor is a nurse at Bryan West Campus, and COVID-19 created many unforeseen challenges in her young nursing career.

On this day, however, everything was going according to plan. It was a warm May day with temperatures soaring to 90 degrees. The wedding ceremony for her fiancé’s sister at First Plymouth Church went off without a hitch. Family and friends moved to Park Center Banquet Hall to celebrate the newlyweds with a reception.

Serious Turn of Events

Around 11 p.m., the gathering took a serious turn. A guest collapsed across the reception hall from Taylor. Initially, she thought it was someone who’d overindulged at the party. But a large gathering and frantic activity made her look twice. It quickly became apparent it was a medical emergency.

Taylor rushed across the room to the scene. There, she found Neal Dethlefs on the floor. The Howard County assessor was in trouble. He was lying on his back, lifeless. He looked extremely pale. Taylor immediately turned Neal on his side to prevent the risk of aspiration because the cause of the episode was not clear. After about 30 seconds, her instincts took over.

The neuroscience nurse repositioned Neal on his back. She started chest compressions and CPR. It was the first time she'd performed the life-saving measure outside of work. Taylor continued resuscitation efforts for several minutes and felt a very faint pulse before Lincoln Fire and Rescue arrived. It took first responders several more minutes to get a steady heart rhythm.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest

Neal suffered a sudden cardiac arrest. His heart malfunctioned and stopped beating unexpectedly. He was immediately transported to a nearby heart hospital where he remained in a medically induced coma. After two days, the St. Paul, Nebraska native stabilized and underwent triple bypass surgery. The procedure took several hours.

After recovering from the operation, Neal was discharged to a Grand Island hospital for further treatment. He worked through a heart rhythm complication and underwent cardiac rehabilitation. Finally, almost 20 days after the incident, he was well enough to return to his home in rural Nebraska.

Taylor and Neal recently reunited at Park Center Banquet Hall to reflect on the life-changing event. According to the American Heart Association, roughly 350,000 cases of sudden cardiac arrest happen every year in the United States. The survival rate is about 10 percent. However, immediate CPR can double or even triple the chances of living.

Full Recovery

Since that evening, Neal has made a full recovery. He is back to work and able to enjoy his normal way of life. He has no memory of the incident or his initial stay in the hospital. But that hasn’t kept him from staying in touch with Taylor. The two met in-person last October and exchange text messages on occasion. They both agree he was in the right place at the right time to live through the cardiac event.

In December, Taylor was recognized for her heroic actions. She was awarded the Citizen’s Lifesaving Award by the Lincoln Police Department. The honor recognizes a significant act by a private citizen that potentially results in the saving of a life. The award was presented at the annual police academy graduation ceremony.

Taylor’s efforts were also greatly appreciated by the entire Dethlefs family. Several days after his open-heart surgery, while recovering in the hospital, Neal’s daughter gave birth to his first grandchild. Because of the heroic actions of Taylor and so many others, he’s able to enjoy time with his family and new grandson.

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