A Woman’s Heart Stopped Before a Show in CT. A Nearby Nurse Acted.

The photo shows the front of a red ambulance with the word
File photo.

John Penney

Norwich Bulletin, Conn.


What was supposed to be a pleasant night of music and slots for two families turned dire after a Massachusetts woman suffered a seizure so severe it stopped her heart and lungs.

But Sandra Swenor said without the timely intervention of a Hartford Healthcare nurse, it could have been so much worse.

Swenor, a 60-year-old Springfield, Massachusetts resident, traveled to the Mohegan Sun Casino on Friday night to watch country superstar Blake Shelton take the stage. She drove down with her mother and the two settled into a suite while waiting for extended family members to show up.

“It was a great day,” Swenor said. “We played slots, had a big room and ate dinner. I love Blake Shelton.”


As she waited in the gaming area for the show to begin, Swenor, a diabetic, said she began feeling odd.

“I got dizzy and foggy,” she said on Wednesday from her bed inside The William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich. “I could hear, but not understand what I was hearing. I thought it was anxiety. And that’s the last thing I remember.”

A few feet away, Cindy Edwards, a regional supervising nurse who worked at both Backus and Windham hospitals, was out with her husband, also waiting for Shelton to perform, courtesy of a pair of tickets they’d won.

“My husband turned to me and said ‘That woman is having a seizure,'” Edwards said.

Edwards, a 44-year-old East Haddam resident who cut her teeth as an EMT in Ledyard and emergency room nurse, rushed to Swenor’s side and identified herself as a nurse. As Swenor slumped over, Edwards guided her down and began her assessment.

“The seizure lasted about 45 seconds and I checked her airway and she didn’t take that first breath,” Edwards said. “I next checked her carotid pulse. Nothing.”

After a sternum rub and repositioning produced no results Edwards began chest compressions. Her husband, Erin, had left to call 911 as nearby slot players kept on pulling their levers, seemingly oblivious to the drama playing out at their feet.

Soon after, a woman approached and identified herself as a nurse — someone who could spell Edwards if she tired from providing those crucial, rhythmic heart compressions.

“After about 90 compressions, we swapped out,” Edwards said. “Then suddenly, another nurse came up and checked Swenor’s radial pulse. She got one.”

After laying Swenor, who had bitten her tongue during the seizure, on her side, the care-givers monitored their patient until casino medical personnel arrived and transported the unconscious — but alive — Swenor to Backus.

“She’s my angel,” Swenor said of Edwards on Wednesday. “I’d never had a seizure before. My ribs hurt, but I’ll take it. (Edwards) is in the right profession.”

Edwards, curious about her patient’s status, began searching for Swenor, whose identity she didn’t know until days later. After stopping by Backus on Monday, Edwards was able to confirm Swenor was recovering and the two reunited.

Edwards, who was leaving Hartford HealthCare on Thursday to take a job as the director of employee health for a Maine healthcare group, said Friday wasn’t the first time an off-the-clock emergency required a prompt medical response on her part.

“I’ve stopped at traffic accidents when I’ve seen them on the road to make sure people are all right,” she said.

Both Edwards and Swenor, who was scheduled to be discharged on Wednesday, are still trying to solve the mystery of who the other two nurses were on Friday. They said they only know one, the nurse who assisted with compressions, by the name “Rachel.” They don’t even have a first name for the other nurse.

Swenor’s mother, Judith Gallagher, said she can still recall with awful clarity the second her daughter began seizing.

“I was scared to death; the most scared I’ve ever been in my entire life,” she said. ” She would have died without those nurses.”

John Penney can be reached at jpenney@norwichbulletin.com or at (860) 857-6965

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