Retired Desert Storm medic saves coworker with a pen

By Ava Wilhite

Charleston, S.C. (WCIV) When a woman collapsed in her Charleston, S.C., office a retired Air Force medic who served in Desert Storm swung into action and saved her life with a new wall-mounted defibrillator and an ink pen to clear her airways so she could breathe again.

To look at Renita Smith and Kevin Patterson today you would think they've always been lifelong friends. Thanks to a new medical device and Patterson's calm under pressure, they might just have that chance.

"Everybody is family there; that was the first impression -- you feel that," said Patterson.

Smith and Patterson are coworkers at the South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation Department. Kevin joined the department one month ago. Last Thursday, Smith had a heart attack just steps from her office.

"Then when I got up, apparently I collapsed and I must have fallen on my face, and (the floor is) concrete," said Smith.

Patterson said at first glance, he thought Smith had a seizure and fell.

"I saw the injuries on her face she must have hit hard, I mean just hard on the ground. I pulled her boots off and there was no pulse and I saw purple and blue just things that weren't normal," said Patterson.

Patterson quickly grabbed the office Automated External Defibrillator, a device that had only recently been installed by the staff at Trident Medical Center.{}

"It said shock, I shocked, she jumped and got the heartbeat back, but she was struggling where there was no breathing," said Patterson.

Once Patterson used the AED machine to restart Renita's heart, he then used a pen to open her airway.

"I had to get that airway open and I had several thoughts in my mind, either I suck the vomit out of her nose and get it out which I was doing," said Patterson.

Patterson said the alternative would have been to use a crike and cut her throat open.

"He stuck a pen up my nose and sucked vomit -- who would do that?" said Smith.

Smith said what Patterson did was sort of like what she saw on the TV show M*A*S*H*, and she's not that far off. Patterson is a Desert Storm veteran who served as a medic.

"Things came back; it's like I didn't freeze or anything like that," said Patterson.

"It's changed me forever and I will take every day not for granted. I will tell people I love them," said Smith.

"Just seeing her, just seeing her back like that is a gift to me. The reward is seeing her talking," said Patterson.

Smith said she plans to start taking better care of herself by losing weight. Nurses said without the early medical response Smith would have only had a 7 percent chance of survival.

While Smith was recovering from the ordeal at Trident Medical Center, doctors also discovered a malignant tumor. Because it was caught so early, she is expected to have a full recover, doctors said.