Instantaneous response by Milwaukee VA police, followed by immediate action from emergency department personnel, saved the life of a non-veteran who was within minutes of dying of a heroin overdose.
Police officer Christopher Zimmermann was addressing another situation outside the Milwaukee VA Medical Center last week when a man jumped off a Milwaukee County Transit Bus that was making a regular stop on the hospital grounds.
The man was frantically yelling that there was a passenger on the bus who possibly was having a stroke and in need of medical attention. Zimmermann rushed to the bus, where the struggling passenger was at the very back seat.
“I could tell right way that he was breathing, and he appeared to be kind of in and out of consciousness, but obviously there was something wrong with him,” Zimmermann. “I wasn’t sure if he was having a diabetic issue, an opioid issue, or what, so I called for assistance.”
Two other officers, Joseph Tripp and Glenn Stritchko, immediately responded. The three officers carried the man off the bus, got him in a wheelchair and pushed him to the ambulance bay of the hospital as quickly as possible.
“He probably had a couple minutes. He’s lucky. He got brought to the right place. It wasn’t his intent to be here. He got lucky.”
— Emergency Department physician Matthew Laudon
“We did have the fire department en route, but once we got on the bus, we determined that there didn’t look like there was enough time,” Tripp said. “He needed immediate attention, so we decided to grab the wheelchair and get him inside as fast we could.”
It took all three officers to push the wheelchair while keeping the man safely in it, because he was not able to offer any assistance. Fortunately, the ambulance bay was within about 50 yards of the bus stop.
“It probably looked silly if you’d seen a video of it, but we did what we had to do,” Zimmermann said. “Three guys needed to lift him out of the bus, carry him and physically lifth im into the chair. He was well over 200 pounds, just dead weight.”
Based on initial appearances, Zimmermann guessed the man was in his late ‘50s or early ‘60s. As such, Zimmermann’s first thoughts were more along the lines of a medical issue, rather than opioids.
“I wasn’t sure initially, if it was a younger person, I would have suspected it immediately,” Zimmermann said. “Somebody said, ‘I think he had stroke,’ when I was going onto the bus, and I’ve also seen a person that’s had a diabetic issue that was very similar.”
An emergency department team met the officers at the ambulance bay. The 62-year-old man was taken to the ED and received immediate treatment.
“He probably had a couple minutes,” Emergency Department physician Matthew Laudon said. “He’s lucky. He got brought to the right place. It wasn’t his intent to be here. He got lucky.”
Training, experience, knowledge
The man was given two doses of naloxone, also known as Narcan, a medication used to reverse an opioid overdose.
“I had a high suspicion of it,” Laudon said of assessing the possible opioid overdose. “But, if I’m wrong, it’s not going to hurt to give it, and if I’m right, we know what the problem is. It’s a quick, easy fix for something may be reversible.”
After the man recovered sufficiently to be interviewed, he admitted to police that he had used heroin earlier in the day.
The fact that the man was not a Veteran did not enter into the equation, said Laudon, who is a Marine Corps Veteran.
“It’s not something that we’re initially concerned about when somebody’s brought in a condition like that,” Laudon said. “After we stabilize him, we’ll figure out what we have to do, but the first thing is we make sure he’s alive.”
Department policies and procedures have evolved to keep pace with societal changes, said VA deputy police chief Martin Runge.
“It’s training, experience and knowledge of drugs that are out there, the heroin, the Narcan training, verbal de-escalation skills in reference to a lot them that are coming high on all types of drugs,” Runge said.
There have been other recent incidents where non-veterans have been treated at the VA, including a 19-year-old female who also had overdosed on opioids. She also was successfully treated with Narcan.
“We are here for the community, as much as we are for our Veterans,” Runge said.
Jim Hoehn is a public relations officer at the Milwaukee VA