Saving a life is no small thing, but Traci Iarrobino and Stephanie Chang have had a hand in it before, lots of times. It’s a big part of what they do for a living.
The two seasoned nurses, next-door neighbors on the city’s southwest side, were among 2,524 runners who took off running at 7 a.m. Sunday in the inaugural Edward Hospital Naperville Marathon and Half Marathon, of which their employer was the naming sponsor.
About six miles in, however, their pace hit a hurdle. A big one.
Iarrobino said they spotted a middle-aged man, a fellow runner, lying in the grass alongside the route.
“So Stephanie and I go up to him to see if he’s OK,” she said. “And when we saw he was unresponsive, that’s then the nurse in both of us kicked in.”
The pair could find no pulse, so they turned him over, immediately worked to clear his airways and began chest compressions to try to revive him.
It wasn’t long before others joined the effort. Iarrobino’s sister, North Central College education instructor Amy Drendel, and Cadence Health staff nurse Merri Lazenby helped with the response. When a Naperville Park Police officer showed up with an automated external defibrillator, the growing team used the device to administer a shock.
“There were quite a few people involved,” said Chang, 45.
The team resumed compressions. And finally, their frantic efforts began to pay off.
“His color came back,” said Iarrobino, 47. “He had kind of a bluish color to begin with. He was breathing on his own, and we put him on his side. Slowly but surely, he was coming around.”
Soon he was pink and talking, and he told his rescuers he wanted to get back up and finish the race.
“It was amazing, amazing,” Chang said. “The best thing I’ve ever seen.”
Back on track
There was broad consensus that getting back on the race course wasn’t an option for the revived man, but the three nurses and the college professor would go on to finish the half marathon. One of the official pacers for the half, Mike Kalagos, stepped out from his initial role specifically to urge them on.
“When it was all over, he picked up the four us, emotionally,” Chang said. “He was our motivator, our encourager to finish.”
They were both still a bit stunned over what had just happened.
“I knew he was gone at some point. I truly believe that,” said Iarrobino, who more often takes part in lifesaving work in Edward’s emergency department and neonatal intensive care unit. “And he came back. He was sitting up and talking.”
Chang, an emergency-room nurse on the hospital’s north Plainfield outpatient campus, was reflective about the incident that promptly put the pair in the local spotlight — and put a fellow runner in Edward Hospital, where he remained Tuesday, listed in good condition. Hospital spokesman Keith Hartenberger said the patient had requested anonymity, so no additional information about him was available.
“I think it all came out OK,” Chang said. “But I think we’re all confused over all the interest in it, because we were just doing what we had to do.”
And they’ll have to do it again — minus, they hope, the medical emergency.
“I told Traci and Amy when we signed up for the first (marathon), ‘We have to do this every year,’” Chang said. “And they both looked at me like, ‘Are you crazy?’ But we will.”
“Oh yes, we will,” Iarrobino added.
Notwithstanding the life-or-death crisis at mile 6, what is being called the first of many Naperville marathons came off at least as well as hoped, two of its directors said afterward.
“We’re absolutely delighted,” said Bob Hackett, one of five race codirectors. “It was a great turnout, and a really, really exciting time for the community.”
In a phone call early Tuesday from O’Hare International Airport, Hackett said he had just encountered two other travelers who were headed home after taking part in the run Sunday morning through south Naperville. He had asked them for their feedback.
“They thought the course was a little bit tougher than they expected, but what isn’t tough at 26.2 miles?” he said.
The event culminated countless hours of work by the central committee and many subgroups who pitched in to help.
“I think that so much planning goes into it that you often think you’ve overplanned, but everything really went well,” said codirector Dave Sheble, who also helped launch the Fox Valley Marathon four years ago. “There’s always something, some things, that you see that you’d like to tweak a little, that you might have missed.”
Those minor oversights will get a preliminary look when marathon planners meet with city staff Thursday to go over how the event came out.
A more comprehensive recap will take place next month, as planning for next year’s marathon gets underway, but the first sit-down will focus on what went particularly well, and less so. Those discussions will contribute to adjustments in next year’s marathon.
“Nothing major, but as the event grows — and it’s on a significant path — we’ll see changes,” Sheble said, noting that the event could conceivably double in 2014, though that is unlikely. “It’s always best to take things in measured doses. ... But it’ll be bigger.”
The response from the community and its many hundreds of volunteers was gratifying for those who spearheaded the planning.
“It’s got so much potential, but until you get your hands on it the first year, you don’t really know how it will go,” Sheble said. “Now, everybody gets what this is about.”