Red Cross Stories: Karen Hemphill


It’s a Friday afternoon in a law office. The office is about to close shop for the day. No one in the office knows CPR. Suddenly, the secretary collapses on the floor. What does one do?

This was the question that attorneys Blaine Norris and Shannon Coffey and paralegal Brian Cathey had to answer on August 17 when a fellow employee, Karen Hemphill, momentarily died at work due to a heart arrhythmia.

Karen Hemphill, a 54-year-old secretary at the Wiggins, Norris & Coffey law firm collapsed on the stairs of the law office.  Her co-workers heard the thud and came to her rescue, which ultimately brought the temporarily dead woman back to life.

Hemphill was unresponsive and wedged between her desk and the wall when Coffey arrived on the scene. Cathey heard Coffey screaming for help, ran to her aid and dragged Hemphill away from her desk to make it easier to assist her.

While Norris and Coffey tended to Hemphill– Norris supporting her head and Coffey doing compressions– Cathey called 911 and then his girlfriend who is training to become a nurse. She informed them that they should do thirty compressions.

Norris was quick to give all the credit to Coffey and proclaimed her the “quarterback” of the situation. He also described Hemphill’s fate as something providential.

In another scenario, Hemphill could have been left at the office by herself. Norris was out of the office for the moment and considering not coming back in, but something pulled him back to the office. Coffey was about to head to the courthouse when she came upon Hemphill lying still in a ball-like position on the floor. Cathey was about to leave for the day but when he heard Coffey shouting, he rushed to action.

When Coffey reached Hemphill’s body, she checked for a pulse and felt nothing. Hemphill’s face was blank and Coffey did not know how to react. For an instant, Coffey pulled away from Hemphill afraid that her death would fall squarely on Coffey’s shoulders.

She hadn’t taken a CPR course since high school and couldn’t remember how many compressions to do, but ultimately decided it was better to do something than nothing. She began by doing three compressions, but once Cathey’s girlfriend informed them that it was thirty compressions she quickly adjusted. Because of Coffey’s decision to act, Hemphill is alive today.

Doing something is better doing nothing was the lesson Coffey took away from the whole experience.

Three minutes before the ambulance arrived, a volunteer fireman that goes by “Cappy” walked into the law office with an eerily calm demeanor. Cappy seemed to have been accustomed to emergency situations and brought a new sense of calm to the situation as they all waited for the ambulance to arrive.

From the collapse till the arrival of the ambulance, only about fifteen minutes elapsed, but to the employees of the law office, it felt like an eternity.

Norris noted his intention to get CPR-certified after each of his three children was born, but never ended up getting around to it. However, after experiencing such a traumatic event like this, he said he definitely plans on getting certified.

Cathey explained that if they had not been able to save Hemphill’s life, guilt would have consumed him for not knowing CPR.

Here’s some basic CPR steps take in case of an emergency:

  • Call- If the person is unresponsive and not breathing or not breathing normally, call 911 and return to the victim.
  • Pump- If the victim is still not breathing normally, coughing or moving, begin chest compressions.  Push down in the center of the chest 2 inches 30 times. Pump hard at the rate of at least 100/minute, faster than once per second.
  • Blow- Tilt the head back and lift the chin. Pinch the nose, cover the mouth with yours and blow until you see the chest rise. Give 2 breaths. Each breath should take 1 second.

And don’t forget about the free First Aid app on iPhone and Android devices.


One response to “Red Cross Stories: Karen Hemphill

  1. Great article! This is such a vital lesson for all of us. Delighted that not only was life improved, but it was saved!

    -PHIL-Athens, LLC.

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