Grace under fire: Delaware Eye Care Center workers save man’s life in emergency

Delaware State News/Marc Clery
Claud Whitsett stands next to the tree he hit with his car in front of Delaware Eye Care Center in Dover.

DOVER — Dr. Timothy F.M. Doyle and the employees of the Delaware Eye Care Center are accustomed to giving patients eye examinations, solving their vision problems and fitting them for glasses.

However, at around 10:30 on the morning of July 24, Dr. Doyle and his staff were forced to respond quickly to an entirely different type of challenge outside their office at 833 South Governors Avenue.

That was when Claud Whitsett, a 58-year-old man from Frederica, went into cardiac arrest while driving northbound on South Governors Avenue while trying to get to Bayhealth’s Kent General Hospital, which is just a few blocks away.

Mr. Whitsett’s vehicle left the roadway and smashed into a power box in front of the Delaware Eye Care Center before coming to rest against a tree right next to a picnic table, where employees often eat their lunches.

The lights went dark in Dr. Doyle’s office and — suddenly — it was all hands on-deck.

“It was crazy because I think we were all in the procedure room and the lights went out and everybody started shouting, ‘Call 9-1-1!’,” Dr. Doyle said. “A lot of times I get called back to see patients if they pass out in a room or something, but this was a little bit different because everyone was running out the front door.

“At first, I thought it was somebody who was (mad) who was causing trouble, but we walked out front and it was just a mess. The car was up against the tree and the airbags were deployed.”

And Mr. Whitsett was unexpectedly in the fight of his life.

No time to waste

“I just don’t remember … I don’t know what took place or what happened,” he said. “All that they told me was that I was headed to the hospital.

“I was on the phone with my girlfriend, but I don’t remember the conversation. I woke up three days later.”

It turned out that Mr. Whitsett couldn’t have had his problems at a better place, as trained Delaware Eye Care Center employees found themselves working like a well-oiled emergency machine.

It was an exceptionally exciting second day of work at the eye center for Lee Ireland.

“It was a very intense second day, I would say,” Mr. Ireland said. “I ran out there and no one was at the vehicle and one of the first things that I did was just run up and make sure there was no one else in the vehicle.

“I ran over to (the driver’s) side because somebody had said the car was on fire, which I assume was from the power box that was sparking and on fire. I went to unbuckle (Mr. Whitsell) and someone had a fire extinguisher and put out the fire in the back of the car.”

He added, “Under (co-worker) Lisa (Stinson’s) direction, she said ‘Do not move him,’ so we left him in there for a few minutes and I was just trying to support his head, keep him alert because he was looking around and making noises, but he was not being responsive to questions or anything like that.”

Ms. Stinson, who also works as an EMT, called the shots throughout the ordeal as she kept a close eye on Mr. Whitsett’s vitals.

“His pulse was very faint from the beginning,” she said. “A couple of us tried a few different times to check it and we just couldn’t get a carotid, we couldn’t get anything.

“At this point I had (Mr. Ireland) start a sternal rub and we got a little bit of moaning and groaning out of him, but that was about it. I was just supporting his head and making sure he was OK.”

It was at that point that they started noticing that Mr. Whitsett’s color had turned completely blue within a matter of seconds.

Ms. Stinson checked again for a pulse but couldn’t find anything, so she made a quick call to not worry about possible C-spine issues if they tried to remove him from the vehicle and decided they needed to start CPR right away.

“Dr. Doyle started compressions, and, at that point, I called for an AED,” she said. “A Dover police officer had just got there, and they had a bag-valve mask and they started giving him some breaths of air.

“Dr. Doyle and I both put the pads on him. It applies the shock. I pushed the button — it shocked him — and he responded right away. Dr. Doyle continued CPR until paramedics got here.

“From then he was alert, much more alert than he was before we started it all. It’s amazing.”

It was all because a group of selfless employees, with knowledge of what to do in an emergency, came together as a team.

“It was just instincts when it happened,” said Samuel Perry, who helped get Mr. Whitsett out of the vehicle. “I jumped out of my seat and I ran outside, and we had to stop the fire … the electrical box was on fire, so we couldn’t get close to the car just yet.

“Once we got the fire out we were like, ‘We’ve got to get him out, we’ve got to get him out.’ Everybody just came together, and everything just worked out.”

A happy ending

Ms. Stinson got a chance to see Mr. Whitsett on Tuesday as he visited the eye doctor’s office on his way to getting a checkup from his cardiologist.

She said it gave her a very warm feeling inside.

“He’s a very lucky man and it was great closure to see the outcome of this,” said Ms. Stinson. “As an EMT you see so many things happen and don’t ever get to see or know the outcome of what you do.

“It was really great to have some closure with someone to know how well he’s doing. We all worked together like it was nothing.”

Dr. Doyle said his years serving as an intern just outside Philadelphia helped him with his CPR procedures.

“I joke around that when I was in my intern years just outside of Philly I was probably on a dozen or 15 codes,” he said. “I was always the guy who got to do compressions, so I’ve had a lot of practice with that. It was crazy.”

Dr. Doyle said, of his staff’s grace under fire performance, “I think anyone does that though when something crazy happens. People tend to step up.”

Surprisingly, it wasn’t the first time something like that had happened at the Delaware Eye Care Center.

“This happened last year when we had a gentleman pass out and he was much more sick than Claud,” Dr. Doyle said. “He lost his pulse and we got him back and he was in the hospital for a while, but he ended up not making it.

“It was so nice to get a chance to see Claud already walking.”

Mr. Whitsett said he spent two weeks at Kent General Hospital before he was recently discharged.

He said it was a scary experience for both himself and his girlfriend, who was on the other end of his cell phone listening throughout the entire ordeal.

“I’ve never had any heart trouble before or no anything,” said Mr. Whitsett. “I was very nervous, but I thought I was having a heart attack.

“I do feel like it happened at the right place. The man upstairs must have been looking over me.”

Well, a combination of the man upstairs, along with an ambitious, emergency-savvy staff at the Delaware Eye Care Center.

Go Fund Me page established

The owners of Michael’s Hair Care in Dover, where Claud Whitsett is employed, have established a “Go Fund Me” page for Mr. Whitsett that says “pledging your support for Reds (Mr. Whitsett’s nickmane), his mounting medical receipt, and his general well-being. If you’re not able to give monetarily, we ask for your wishes and prayers to support our friend, a truly one-of-a-kind man, and someone who we are blessed to call a part of the MHC family.”

He has worked for Michael’s Hair Care for 28 years.

The GoFundMe page can be found at www.gofundme.com.

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.