Firefighter performs CPR after woman collapses at gas station

Keith Mills' actions saved the woman's life and her family found him on Facebook to thank him

Belleville News-Democrat

MARINE, Ill. — Keith Mills left his engineering job at Boeing a little early on Jan. 8 en route back to his home in Marine. He wanted to stop and get a haircut.

He also needed gas. It was around 2:30 p.m., and he decided to stop at a station in Missouri to take advantage of the cheaper price. As he was pumping gas at a Phillips 66 off Lilac Avenue, he glanced over and saw Michelle Clark, 57, of Fairmont City walking out of the convenience shop.

“She steps off the curb and is walking toward the pumps when she suddenly just stops. Stands frozen for a good second or two, then slowly falls straight back, bouncing the back of her head off the concrete. I looked away, and then back, thinking, ‘Holy crap, did I just see that?!’ I grab my medic gloves, which I had in the car (thanks to my brother Lowell, who had given me a box), and run over,” Mills said.

By this time, a woman had also run over to help. They each checked for a pulse but couldn’t find one.

They started to do CPR and told others to call 911 and relay to the dispatcher that they were starting CPR.

“(We) started doing chest compressions, and the other lady helped keep count. Just by the process of pumping, we could see and hear that air was going in and out of her lungs. Someone on a phone says, ‘911 says to just keep pumping to 100,’” Mills said.

They got to 100, stopped and checked for a pulse, but again, nothing. They started again.

“My helper says, if I get tired, she will take over. The ‘moral support’ of just having another person there helping was priceless. Finally, after about five-plus minutes in, we can hear sirens. The EMTs get there and attach the AED pads, which immediately advise to shock. It would shock, then they would resume CPR,” Mills said.

EMTs loaded the woman on the ambulance.

“I peeked in the ambulance a few times and saw them still shocking and doing CPR,” Mills said.

They took Clark away, but Mills was unsure if his efforts had helped.

“They said I could go, so I finally left and made it in time to still get my haircut, sort of doubting that the CPR had been very helpful,” Mills said.

He was wrong. His actions had saved the woman’s life.

And the woman’s family wanted him to know it. They began to search for Mills on social media. Melissa Henke Pflueger, the woman’s daughter-in-law, sent out a request on Facebook.

“Most people nowadays would turn their heads but he didn’t,” Henke Pflueger wrote in her Facebook post, asking if anyone might know who their hero stranger could be.

“Keith I hope you can see this,” Donna Pflueger Chalmers wrote on Facebook. “My name is Donna and you saved my mother’s life. I will never be able to repay you for what you did. You are an amazing person and I’m glad that you were at the gas station when you were. I’m truly blessed to still have my mom and it’s all thanks to you. Thanks so much and you will forever be in my heart.”

A few days later, they found him.

“I honestly didn’t have the highest hopes when I started the Facebook post, but man am I glad I gave it a chance,” Henke Pflueger said.

“Wednesday night (Jan. 13), my wife and I are watching TV, and we started getting texts and links to a Facebook message going around,” Mills said.

News of Mills’ actions quickly made it around Marine, where they drew praise from his fellow firefighters.

“He’s a true hero,” said Marine Police Chief Chris Singleton, who is also a volunteer with the fire department. “This (story) literally brought tears to my eyes.”

“Those of us who have done CPR on strangers many times may take this for granted, but the general public doesn’t see real-life CPR all that often,” said Lowell Mills, Keith’s brother and fellow Marine firefighter. “To get this response and find out about a success is awesome.”

Lowell said he was not surprised by his brother’s actions and that he kept what he did so quiet.

“Later that evening my sister-in-law asked me on Facebook to check with my brother about how his chest compressions went at a gas station,” he said.

Only then, did Lowell find out about the actions taken by his younger brother, who like himself is a Marine firefighter.

He’s a true hero. This (story) literally brought tears to my eyes.

Marine Police Chief Chris Singleton, who is also a volunteer with the fire department

Henke Pflueger said she is “joyed that Keith is getting some attention because he truly deserves it.”

“Our lives changed in the blink of an eye, and he is a true hero,” she said.

Keith Mills, who has been a first responder for over a dozen years, is downplaying what he did.

“I just did what most people would do in the same circumstance,” he said. “Our volunteer fire department and local EMS does this kind of stuff all the time, but you never hear about it.

“The real difference is we usually don’t get the feedback quite like what happened in this case,” said Mills, who recently attended a CPR refresher training course with his brother and fellow Marine first responders.

Immediate cardiopulmonary resuscitation and early defibrillation, with AED, can more than double a victim’s chance of survival.

But the gas station didn’t have an AED, making the woman’s chances for survival slim, Lowell Mills said.

“For every minute that passes without CPR and defibrillation, however, the chances of survival decrease by 12 percent,” he said.

On Friday, Clark, the mother of four children, underwent triple bypass surgery, which was expected to last four to 10 hours, Keith Mills said.

“I have yet to hear back from her,” he said. “But she is still living, and was in the intensive care unit according to one of her daughter’s Facebook page.”

Keith Mills said he’d some day like to meet Clark.

“It would be an interesting meeting,” he said. “I’m sure, there may be a few hugs. It certainly (would be) a lot less stressful (than our first encounter).”

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