Arlington Recognizes First Responders Who Saved Man’s Life

One evening last month, Arlington police Sgt. VaNessa Harrison found herself kneeling on a cold street in front of AT&T Stadium, desperately trying to save the life of a man who had suffered a heart attack behind the wheel at the busy Collins Street and Randol Mill Road intersection.

Harrison, a 23-year department veteran, had been working part-time to supervise traffic control during the Dec. 9 Dallas Cowboys game when she heard a call for medical assistance over her police radio. With the help of another officer, Sgt. Harrison quickly pulled the lifeless man from the driver’s seat and began administering chest compressions until an ambulance could arrive.

“He had no pulse. I didn’t even want to take the time to move him to the sidewalk,” said Sgt. Harrison, who has performed CPR at least three other times during her law enforcement career.

On Wednesday, one month after the medical emergency, the City of Arlington recognized Sgt. Harrison and other first responders with the police department, fire department and American Medical Response ambulance service for their quick actions in saving the life of Jeff Kempf. Fire Chief Don Crowson said the combination of bystander CPR, quick access to an automated external defibrillator and prompt advanced medical care were critical to a positive outcome for Kempf.

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“He was alive in the back of the ambulance before he got to Arlington Memorial Hospital,” Crowson said. “This was an amazing outcome.”

During the ceremony at AT&T Stadium, Jeff and Vicki Kempf and family friend Kaye Shelton, who was in the car with the couple on Dec. 9, thanked all who stepped forward that night to provide help.

“I wanted to say how much I appreciate everybody doing what they did to save my life. The chain of events that had to be perfectly laid out for it to work is pretty amazing,”  Jeff Kempf said.

The emotional ceremony Wednesday wasn’t the first time Sgt. Harrison reunited with the Kempf family. As soon as she learned he had regained consciousness, Sgt. Harrison visited the hospital and became fast friends with the family. Today, they are not only celebrating Jeff Kempf’s spectacular recovery; the die-hard Cowboys fans are also celebrating their team’s winning season. Sgt. Harrison said she was thrilled that her new friend was well enough to attend the playoff game at AT&T Stadium on Jan. 5.

“We take this job because we want to help people,” Sgt. Harrison said. “To see an outcome like this, it makes every day of my career worth it. That’s the honest truth.”

Others recognized during Wednesday’s ceremony include Arlington police Lt. Tracie Baker, Arlington fire fighters Chris Banz and Tyler Smith, AMR EMTs Jayci VanCleave and Ashley Brant and Dallas County Community College police officer Patrick Nwadinigwe.

The City of Arlington, a designated Heart Safe Community, is committed to increasing the chances of survival from a sudden cardiac arrest through initiatives such as wide-spread CPR instruction, public access defibrillators, and aggressive resuscitation protocols for first responders and area hospitals.

“Our system has been designed over the last 15 years for this specific kind of event,” Crowson said. “This community is geared toward cardiac survival.”

Survivors of cardiac arrest usually have four things in common:

  • Someone witnessed the event, recognized the emergency and called 911.
  • Someone started chest compressions (CPR) immediately.
  • Someone arrived quickly with an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) to shock the heart back to a healthy rhythm.
  • Emergency medical personnel provided advanced care and subsequently transported the victim to an appropriate hospital.

Click here for a list of area CPR and automated external defibrillator (AED) training opportunities.