EMS crews celebrate clinical save; Holzschuh calls it a miracle

By Neal A. Johnson, UD Editor
Posted 12/1/22

WESTPHALIA  — There is no doubt for Janie and Coby Holzschuh of rural Westphalia. They are confident that the efforts of emergency medical crews on Sept. 14, 2020, were guided by God and …

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EMS crews celebrate clinical save; Holzschuh calls it a miracle

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WESTPHALIA  — There is no doubt for Janie and Coby Holzschuh of rural Westphalia. They are confident that the efforts of emergency medical crews on Sept. 14, 2020, were guided by God and that Janie’s life was spared because she has more to do.

“So many things happened in 17 days that it had to be a miracle,” said Coby, a 19-year veteran of the Missouri State Highway Patrol. “God saved her and our family through the work of the medical responders He sent.”

First responders gathered recently at the Westphalia Fire Protection District base to be recognized and presented with a “Celebrating Excellence” Zoll Medical Clinical Save Award. In addition to receiving the awards, responders met Janie and her family.

“We couldn’t put the gathering together because of COVID, but it’s been an amazing journey, and we are so grateful to everyone who played a part in this emergency,” said Coby.

Janie doesn’t remember the collapse, which doctors attribute to a cardiac event.

She is not sure what exactly caused the episode, but this was the final straw that nearly claimed her life.

ORIGINS AND 

DEVELOPMENT

To understand how this developed, Janie said you have to go back to the final night of the Osage County Fair in July 2019.

“I had had a coughing problem all that spring, and the doctor kept trying to figure out what was causing it,” Janie said. “I couldn’t get rid of it. It was severe, how hard I would cough. Everybody asked what was wrong with me. The doctor kept treating me for the cough, trying different things. After the fair, I got up in the middle of the night to get a drink of water. When I opened the refrigerator, I couldn’t see out of my right eye.”

The next morning, she could see a little bit around the edge, but Janie was still blind in the middle.

Janie declined her family’s suggestion that she go to the hospital, noting she would visit the doctor the following day.

She was treated, and almost all of her vision has returned, but what seemed odd was that the doctor labeled it a stroke.

“That doesn’t make sense,” Janie said. “I’m healthy. I’m active and eat right, so I just didn’t fit the statistics for stroke. So, they started doing all these tests on me and discovered that my carotid artery was split in two. And that was what was causing it.”

The artery had been dissected but then clotted, and that clot broke free and went to the back of her brain, causing the stroke.

Especially odd was the fact the artery was dissected from the inside. “They asked if I had been in a car accident or if I could think of any reason my head would have flown from side to side,” she said.

Janie recalls that she had been at her daughter’s project graduation before the family went on vacation. “They had those sumo wrestler suits with Velcro, so you stick on walls, and I had put it on, and I tried to do it,” Janie said. “I fell flat two times, and the velcro didn’t stick, so the third time, I ran up the wall and hit it with my shoulder. My head went hard from side to side, and that’s how I broke it.”

“She works out three times a week and eats extremely clean,” Coby noted. “She lives a healthy lifestyle, and in the last two years, she’s had a stroke and a massive heart event, I guess you could call it. It’s just bizarre; it’s crazy.”

Janie underwent surgery in August 2019 to repair the carotid artery and spent five days at University Hospital in Columbia.

Life returned to normal following the procedure, but Janie was frustrated with a follow-up doctor’s appointment in September 2020 for the carotid issue.

“They told me I was gonna have a CT scan with contrasting dye and I don’t remember ever having it, so whenever I checked in and saw the doctor, I have no recollection, but I did that scan that day. When I was waiting for the doctor, it took a while. It was pretty busy, and I’m a patient person, but I became very irritated that day with that situation.”

Despite her frustration, the doctor said everything was fine. “He told me he would see me the next year unless there was a complication, but I was having pain in the upper shoulder of my back on my right side,” Janie said. “As a hairdresser, sometimes when holding my hands, I have that pain in that area, so I didn’t think anything of it, but it was bothering me.”

In retrospect, considering the events that unfolded later in the evening, Janie and Coby feel fortunate that she didn’t have the cardiac event while driving.

“After the appointment, she called and told me she wasn’t feeling well,” Coby said. “She was very flush and hot; she’s never hot; she’s always cold and was having pain. On the drive home, she called and gave me the same symptoms but said she was feeling a little better.”

Everyone was home when Janie began cooking supper, though she occasionally stopped to use tennis balls as a way to release cramps in her back.

After watching a television show with Lexi, Janie headed down to watch another show with her younger daughter, Kennedy.

“I was going down the stairs, and that’s the last thing I remember,” Janie said.

IMMEDIATE REACTION

Coby was home, along with their two daughters, at the time of Janie’s collapse. “We all saw her collapse into the stairs, and it was scary,” he said. “I ran to her, and it was not good. I’ve been in those situations before, and I know from my job what death sounds and looks like; she was headed down that path.”

Coby said his wife lay on the steps, not breathing and without a pulse. As Coby began CPR, Lexi called 911, and emergency telecommunicators Brady Dobson and Savana Atkinson were on duty. They quickly dispatched fire, EMS, and law enforcement units and provided pre-arrival instructions.

Coby and Lexi moved Janie to the landing on the main level, where they continued administering CPR while Kennedy prayed.

“We kept going until first responders got there,” Coby said. “We live in the middle of the country, so it was probably 20 to 25 minutes before first responders could get there.”

Westphalia Fire Chief Jim Roark and first responders Alvin Bexten, Chase Huber, Ryan Schwartz, Brian Eisterhold, Randy Nilges, Jared Weber, Dylan Berhorst, Cody Eisterhold, Ben Eisterhold, Brent Wolken, Bradley Lackman, and Abby Berhorst arrived on the scene. They took over CPR using an automated external defibrillator (AED).

“I know it took a total of seven shocks before they got a heartbeat,” Coby said, noting that was probably 35 to 40 minutes after the event started. 

“The interesting thing about that is later, when I talked to other medical people whose hair I do, they told me most people stop CPR after 30 minutes,” Janie said. “Like, it’s done, you’re dead, there’s no chance somebody’s coming back. So for them to have done it all that time and go beyond that and people doing things to help me, that’s God; that’s not people anymore.”

Coby agrees. “She’s a living miracle, and God used them to save her that day,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it. I look up some stats.”

During CPR, chest compressions artificially cause the heart to pump blood. Five to 10 minutes without a heartbeat and without CPR is enough to cause irreversible brain damage. “Even if a person is given good CPR, time still plays a role,” Coby said. “For example, if it takes 30 minutes to get a heartbeat, the likelihood of a person being able to recover is very slim. And, even if a person’s heart starts beating again, it’s not uncommon for that person to have experienced serious damage to other organs, such as the brain or kidneys, due to the lack of blood flow.”

PRAYER AND STABILIZATION

As first responders worked on Janie, Coby stepped away to call family, and Sheriff Mike Bonham arrived on the scene. Other members of law enforcement also responded, including Trooper Dustin Crafton and Deputy Dennis Sutton.

Coby had requested that 911 dispatch both Maries Osage Ambulance District and Osage Ambulance District to his home. “Somebody is going to get there a little bit faster than the other one, and I just wanted to make sure they got somebody there as fast as possible,” Coby explained.

Before long, he had a house full of people trying to help Janie.

“There are a million people there, but I was off praying,” Coby recalls. “The sheriff asked what I needed him to do. I told him I needed him to pray. And at one point, he came back, and he got me, and we prayed together. That’s really kind of the last thing I remember seeing that night before they took her away.”

Bonham said there was a sense of urgency among all involved because they know Coby and his family. “I was the first law enforcement officer on the scene, and I saw the flatline on the monitor,” he said. “I was hurting for Coby. He was upset and asked me to pray for grace and healing. We prayed together, and when I went back into the room, she had a heartbeat and a good rhythm.”

Coby was unaware that Janie’s heartbeat had been restored until he arrived in Columbia at University Hospital.

MOAD Paramedic Meghan Weiss and EMT Richie Hinz took over for first responders and initiated advanced cardiac life-support procedures. OAD Paramedics Jonathon Thomas and Paul Davidson and EMT Thomas Murphy arrived to assist with patient care shortly after the rescuers restored Janie’s pulse. 

“The first responders did a great job and never gave up,” Coby said. “I’m so incredibly grateful for their efforts.”

With Janie stabilized and her heat beating on its own, EMS crews transported her to a landing zone set up at Skidmore Lumber. They transferred care to the ARCH 6 helicopter crew for a 15-minute flight to University Hospital in Columbia.

Coby was prepared to follow in his vehicle, but others at the scene, knowing his state of mind, didn’t allow it.

“They didn’t want me driving because they just assumed I was gonna be driving like a maniac,” Coby recalls. “Trooper Crafton drove my two daughters and me up to the hospital. When we got there, other troopers were waiting.”

MSHP Maj. Cory Shoeneberg was among them. At the time, he was a captain and the commander of Troop F.

Another friend at the Patrol, a sergeant from the local zone in Columbia at the time who is now a captain, told Coby that everything was calm when the helicopter landed at University Hospital.

“Calm was good because if it’s not calm, they’re working on her, and you know it’s chaos,” Coby said.

At the time, due to COVID rules, only one person could enter the emergency room, which was Coby. “It took them a while before any doctors came and talked to me about what was going on,” he said. “Once they did, I finally got a chance to see her. Not that she was stable, but they allowed me to be in the room with her at the time.”

Coby’s emotions caught up with him. “I was praying and crying and praying,” he said. “It was like an ensemble parade. It was just tough to see how she was responding to everything that was going on.”

A doctor told Coby at about 2 a.m. that Janie was stable and he and the family should go home. “I sent the family home, but I stayed a little bit longer. He’s like, ‘go home; she’s stabilized. She’s going to be fine. Come back during visiting hours.’ I left and had to get gas, so I stopped at the very first gas station that I came across, which was probably three blocks from University Hospital. I got a phone call from the hospital. They said, ‘she’s crashing; you need to get back here as soon as possible.’ I went back but they wouldn’t let me in. Eventually, the doctor came out and said she was stabilized. So we go through the process again. He’s like, ‘she’s stabilized. I promise you she’s stabilized. You can go home.’ I was thinking that’s what he told me the last time. I eventually got home at about four o’clock in the morning.”

NEXT STEPS

Because of COVID-19 procedures, only one person was allowed to visit Janie — during the entirety of her stay — and Coby made sure he was the one.

“Had my dad signed in and gone back to see her, he would have been the only one through the course of that time who would have been able to see her according to their policy,” Coby said. “There was one person, and one person only allowed with her for the duration of her stay, not just in the ER. The girls were ther, but they couldn’t see their mom and didn’t know what would happen, you know, long-term. But they wouldn’t allow them to see her. It was unbelievable.”

Janie was still unconscious and later learned what usually happens to people in her situation. “The doctor told (Coby) that because I was out so long, the chances of me waking up were slim. And if I did wake up, I would probably have severe brain damage.”

“All I could do was watch and pray and hope,” Coby said.

That’s where he was wrong. “I realized that my brothers and sisters in Christ and my family and friends were there for me, for us. We had friends online from around the world offering their prayers and support.

“At one point, there was a guy who says, ‘I don’t know this family, but I’m on an I’m on an island in the Pacific Ocean, and I’m praying.’ Facebook can be amazing when it works that way.”

Coby turned down an offer by his parents that they drive him to and from the hospital. “They wanted to give me a chance to talk about the situation, but I figured I could handle it,” he said. “I came back that night, and it was tough seeing her like that.

“I’m not sure what I was expecting when I got to the hospital, but as soon as I walked into the room, I lost it,” Coby added. “She was in the general ICU, and they were trying to keep her temperature around 36 degrees to help with healing. However, they couldn’t control her shivering, so they were talking about giving her some meds that would paralyze her. But if they did that, they wouldn’t be able to test her neurological system, and her neurological system was a concern, considering how long she had been out during the event.”

This bothered Coby, so he called his parents on day two and asked them to take me up and back. Bob and Cheryl Holzschuh were happy to help.

On the second day, Coby received a text from his oldest friend on earth, Dusty Elmore, a Bland native who is a pastor in Georgia. “He probably doesn’t remember what he said, but I do, and it was exactly what I needed. The first thing he said was ‘do not be afraid. Do you know that one phrase in the Bible is repeated 365 times? Do not be afraid, and I think it’s because any given day in this world, the enemy can discourage you, tempt you, cause you to stumble, even torment you, take your health and maybe even your life, but 365 days out of the year, there is one thing he cannot touch. He cannot touch your soul, so fear not; the Lord is with you. God knows what we need before we ask.’”

Coby’s parents continued to offer encouragement. “On the third day, my dad said, ‘one of these days, you’re gonna walk into that room, and she’s gonna be sitting up, and she’s gonna run over to you and give you a big hug and a kiss.’ I told my dad there was no way. He hadn’t seen her because no one could see what was happening inside the hospital. And I tried to shelter the kids, but I just said, ‘Dad, there’s just no way possible.’ So I got there on the third day, and I’m near the room, and I noticed that the doors were closed and the curtains were drawn. And while I was sitting there, the doctor came over and started talking to me, trying to figure out exactly why this happened.”

A sound broke through the conversation — a cough.

“I was like, ‘Man, that sounds like Janie’s cough.’ So we’re talking, and he’s trying to figure it out, and I hear the cough again, and I thought, there’s no way that that’s, that’s just like Janie’s cough. And so we continue with the conversation. And at the end of the conversation, he finally goes, ‘Oh, by the way, do you want to go in and talk to your wife?’ I just broke down and cried. I sat down in the chair.”

Coby got himself together and asked the doctor, “What do you mean, go and talk to her? He said, this morning, she woke up, and she’s sitting up, and she’s got full function,” he said. “And I was thinking, ‘Why didn’t you lead with that? I walked into the room, and just like my dad said, she was sitting up in bed. She didn’t walk over to me and hug me, but she was sitting up and I ran over to her and just gave her the biggest hug you could imagine. I was so happy.”

That was the third of 17 days in which Janie recovered at University Hospital.

“They put me back under because I wasn’t progressing and resting like they wanted me to,” said Janie. “So they sedated me and put me back on the ventilator. They put the breathing tube I had ripped out back in because I had a collapsed lung. I don’t remember any of that.”

By some kind of miracle, minor as it may seem, Janie’s sternum and ribs were intact despite the numerous people performing CPR on the night of the event.

Coby is CPR-certified through his work with the Patrol. His daughter, Lexi, has been certified by OAD, through which she participated in the EMS Explorer program. She also worked at a preschool in Westphalia, where certification was required.

“We took turns,” said Coby. “We started chest compressions and the breathing, and then we would switch, and eventually Lexi got to the point where she couldn’t do the rest anymore, so she just did the compressions.”

When Westphalia first responders arrived, they took over chest compressions and deployed the AED.

“Everyone did their part,” said Chief Jim Roark. “We took turns, so we have a fresh person rotating in to keep it going. When the paramedics got there, we handed it off to them, and they were amazing. This was great teamwork from everyone involved. Everything just clicked. We have a great team of responders, and it showed on this call.”

MOAD Administrator Carla Butler agrees. “It was such a rewarding evening to see all the entities involved in saving Janie’s life come together as one,” she said, adding that the recent ceremony was special. “To see her and her family visit and thank everyone in person is something we will treasure forever.”

MIRACULOUS

From the start, Coby believes the chain of events was divine intervention.

“So many things happened during that 17 days, it’s hard to remember them all,” he said. “I’m sure God’s hand was guiding everyone.”

Janie’s best friend, Lanette Gooch, suggested that Coby take his wife’s Bible to the hospital and read to her.

“She was sending me verses, but probably about day five or six, I decided, I’ll open up the book. Wherever it takes me is what I’ll read.”

Jamie has a huge, thick Bible with two versions on each page. “She’s got it highlighted,” Coby said. “There’s probably not a non-highlighted page, and she has sticky notes on most of the pages.”

Coby’s blind selection turned out to be Kings I, verse 17, and he shared this with his fellow congregants at Zion Church in Bland.

“The son of the woman who owned the house became ill,” Coby said. “He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing. She said to Elijah, who had been staying with her, What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son? Give me your son, Elijah replied. Elijah took him from her arms, carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his bed. Then he cried out to the Lord, ‘O Lord my God, have you brought tragedy also upon this widow I am staying with by causing her son to die? Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried to the Lord, O Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him. The Lord heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived.”

“It gives me goosebumps thinking about it,” Coby said. “That’s the verse I opened up to that day when I decided I’m just going to pick a spot and go to it, and that’s what it opened up to. How is that not God’s plan?”

Coby added that Janie had written two notes about this passage. “There are three good reasons for miracles: people need something; it shows God’s power and deity, and it brings people to Him,” he said. “Then, off to the side, she wrote, ‘sometimes I have to go through pain and hardship in order to see the miracle. God knows what we need, and the king still has one more move.”

A meal train was set up, and included with one of the offerings was a bible verse: Lamentations 3:25-27. “He knows what we need before we ask.”

Coby told the congregation: “I came to tell somebody today. If you believe you’ve been cornered and feel like giving up, and all hope is lost, the king still has one more move. He has one more move over my finances, one more move over my marriage, and one more over my life; it is not over. If you think you’ve blown God’s plan for your life, rest in this. You, my beautiful friends, are not that powerful. No matter how far you’ve walked away from God, the return trip is only one step.”

MOVING FORWARD

Janie’s heart specialist installed a pacemaker defibrillator — just in case. “He thinks everything will be fine,” she said.

At the life-saving ceremony, Janie had the opportunity to meet those who worked diligently to bring her back.

“I was honored to meet everyone and so thankful,” she said. “How do you say thank you for saving my life? It was amazing, from start to finish. Everyone did such a great job.”

Members of the Westphalia Fire Protection District earned their second life-saving award from Zoll Medical, which manufactures the AED used by first responders.

Chief Roark said this kind of life-saving event is rare, and this circumstance is almost unbelievable.

“In my eyes, it was truly a miracle,” he said. “We’ve had situations like this, and unfortunately, most don’t survive a cardiac event like this, where they’re not breathing and have no pulse. We didn’t want to give up. It made no sense because she’s relatively young and healthy. I’m glad we were able to help.”

OAD Administrator Josh Krull suggested a few things at the ceremony.

“Learn CPR,” he said. “There is no doubt that Janie is here because of the immediate CPR her husband and daughter provided.”

Calling 911 was equally important. “Activate the 911 system quickly so help is on the way,” he said, crediting first responders for their efforts. “Seven shocks were delivered before a heartbeat was restored in this case.”

He also said, “The family credits not only all of the responders, doctors, nurses, and others directly involved with Janie’s care but God was with everyone involved that night, with Janie in the hospital, through recovery and still today.”

Janie is not sure why her life was spared in such a fashion, but she’s certain God has a reason and has a suggestion for everyone.

“Trust God,” she said tearfully. “It was painful and scary and hard for everyone involved, but all things are possible with God. How do people without faith deal with this kind of thing? As it says in my favorite Bible verse, Philippians 4:13, ‘I can do all things through Christ Jesus, who strengthens me.’”

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