An overnight camping trip nearly turned to tragedy for a group of friends visiting Smith Mountain Lake last month. When one of the friends stopped breathing, the guidance of a 911 operator helped to keep him alive and bring him to safety.
The friends were staying on a small island on the lake near channel marker R4 called Middle Island. After camping overnight and spending some time on the island, Josh George of Hurt, informed his friends that he was going to take a nap. Some time later he became unresponsive.
Mistine Traegner, an emergency medical dispatcher for Bedford County, received the 911 call from friends when George was unresponsive. After asking a series of questions, she learned that George wasn’t breathing.
“I instructed them to start doing CPR,” Traegner said.
With more than a decade of experience as a 911 dispatcher, Traegner said it is not unusual to get calls where a person is in need of CPR. Multiple times each month she has to walk people through how to do CPR. “That is why I think it is very important for people to be trained in CPR,” she said.
One aspect that was unique about this particular call was locating the group. Traegner said no one in the group knew exactly where they were on the lake.
In cases where a person or group’s location in unknown, Traegner said dispatchers are able to pinpoint the location using a phone’s GPS. Once she got the information, she relayed it to the Smith Mountain Lake Marine Volunteer Fire Department so they could respond.
The additional time needed to locate the group meant that friends had to perform CPR on George for nearly 30 minutes before help arrived. Traegner continuously asked the friends to take turns performing CPR so they didn’t get tired. She also continued to speak with them and ask questions to keep them calm and to relay messages to emergency crews responding.
“It’s like a chaotic dance,” Traegner said of helping those on the line while relaying necessary information to others. She also credited other dispatchers who were able to help once they realized how serious the situation was.
SMLMVF member Neil Harrington responded to the call along with medics with the Moneta Volunteer Fire Department. He said George had a heartbeat and was breathing on his own when they transported him off the island. He was taken to Parkway Marina where he was transported to the hospital.
Bedford County Sheriff Mike Miller said he was proud of the work Traegner did, as well as the work she and other dispatchers continue to do in assisting the department. He called dispatchers the “unsung heroes” in emergency response who are the first point of contact to help in guiding officers and EMS.
“Traegner made a fine example of all our dispatchers,” Miller said of her work helping the campers.
While Traegner usually doesn’t check what happens after a 911 call ends, she said she followed up to see how George was doing. She learned that he was released from the hospital a few days after the incident. Severe dehydration mixed with extreme heat was the likely cause of the incident.