Racing to Save a Life

chelseaALONE228wideCompleting a marathon is an impressive feat on its own. Imagine saving someone’s life just three fourths of a mile from the finish line.

That’s what Chelsea Vargas did.

A Seton Health Alliance Patient Services Program representative lead, Vargas was in North Bend, Wash., to run the Tunnel Light Marathon on Sept. 13. A veteran runner and eight-time marathon finisher, Vargas thought this was going to be just another race.

“The marathon was supposed to be a fun run, and serve as training for the Austin Half Ironman in November. It was supposed to be easy and light,” Vargas said.

The race began like any other. Vargas took a run/walk approach to the gravelly trails, surrounded only by mountains and a few runners. She had passed the 25-mile marker and was in the last stretch of the race.

Just 100 meters ahead, she saw a fellow runner, Ken Briggs, squat down.

“At first, he didn’t look completely abnormal,” Vargas said. ”I’ve seen this happen to other runners. It wasn’t until he stood up, squatted back down and fell on his back that I knew something wasn’t right.”

Without hesitation, Vargas ran over to Briggs. She saw that he was seizing and rolled him to his left side. At that moment, Vargas’ previous training as a nurse in a cardiac care unit immediately kicked in.

He started turning blue. Vargas rolled him back over, tilted his locked jaw open and gave him two rescue breaths. She followed up with a sternal rub, a rub to the sternum area to awake a person.

Nothing happened.

Vargas then gave him another two rescue breaths. She felt for a pulse and couldn’t find one. Briggs still wasn’t breathing, so Vargas proceeded with 30 chest compressions. She rotated through this same cycle a few more times until he finally gasped for air.

While Vargas was performing life-saving CPR, she calmly directed other runners to call 911 and Briggs’ wife, whose contact information she found on his runner ID tag.

Vargas continued performing CPR until paramedics arrived. Briggs was taken to a local emergency room; he survived the cardiac event because of Vargas’ efforts and later discussed his experience with KHQ, Channel 6 in Spokane and the Spokane newspaper, the Spokesman-Review. An account from Vargas’ perspective appeared on the Texas Running Post.

“She saved my life,” Briggs told the newspaper.

After all this, Vargas completed the race. Friends from the Austin Runners Club were waiting for her at the finish line.

“I was happy to be finished, but my thoughts were, ‘I just want to know how he’s doing.’ I kept thinking to myself I was in the right place at the right time. I was meant to be here. It was a mindful moment and I had a sense of peace,” Vargas said.