When the telephone rings at Shannon Burgstrum's job, it is seldom good news.
The 911 dispatcher spends her nights answering calls from people in distress, and she usually forwards the correct response to the situation, whether it is law enforcement or medical personnel, or sometimes both.
But when a call came in on May 17 from a man whose wife was not breathing after recently having had open heart surgery, Burgstrum said she could hear the desperation growing in the caller's voice. While a vast majority of the calls she gets have something negative involved, Burgstrum said she knew “something bad” was happening on the other end of the line that day.
Pottawattamie County 911 Communications Director Robert Andersen said Burgstrum reacted quickly, and effectively, in walking the caller through the CPR process.
“The caller was hesitant; his wife had an open chest wound already,” Andersen said. “Shannon told him he had no choice. She did a great job.”
Burgstrum, who has been a dispatcher for almost four years, was able to get the man to start CPR.
“I told him anything that we break is something we can fix later,” she said.
Paramedics arrived on scene and continued to resuscitate the woman on the way to the hospital.
Four days later, the woman was able to return home.
For Burgstrum's quick decision-making and the ability to walk the caller through CPR, she was honored with life saving awards Thursday from both the Pottawattamie County Sheriff's Office and Council Bluffs Fire and Rescue.
Fire Chief Alan Byers said his department is quite proud of, and frequently brags about, its cardiac care save rate, which he said is second to none in the country. The department boasts a 40 percent survivor rate with patients with a savable heart rhythm versus the national average of 8 percent.
Byers said a big part of that success rate starts with dispatchers like Burgstrum.
“But that's one part you don't hear about that often,” he said. “Nobody brings dispatchers doughnuts like they do to firefighters after they have their life saved.”
Sheriff Jeff Danker said the dispatchers often go unrecognized for the work that they do in saving citizens.
“We are proud of the job Shannon did,” Danker said. “A lot of dispatchers don't get the recognition they deserve, but we appreciate your extra effort.”
For Burgstrum, she said that her training kicked in when the call came in, but it was also different from anything she had encountered before. During training, dispatchers go through an escalating series of calls, each one more difficult than the last.
Burgstrum said that training is great, but it is also different when there is a real person on the other end of the conversation who is suffering.
“I just try to respond to the person's needs, and that helps me,” she said.
Burgstrum said she was just glad the woman was able to go home from the hospital.
“I appreciate the recognition, but for me it's enough that she's OK,” she said. “I'm happy she went home.”