Renee Buzzard wants to be a nurse. So, she enrolled in the Health Occupations Program through HSHS St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital. Little did she know the skills she learned in the program would help save her mother’s life.

On April 9, the Beecher City High School senior came home early from school after senior class testing, at about 1 p.m. She and her older brother, Bryce, were both at home and spoke to their mother, Allison, who was coming back from a walk and getting ready for a workout.

Both Bryce and Renee went to their rooms and were getting ready to leave again when they heard a “thump.” They thought at first it was possibly one of their dogs and then they heard a whining noise leading them to the front room of the house.

Renee asked her mom if she was alright and told her brother to call 911.

“I started immediately doing compressions,” said Renee, who learned in depth how to perform CPR as part of her Health Occupations class. “I didn’t even have to think about it.”

“My training kicked in and I knew exactly what I needed to do,” she said.

Renee administered CPR to her mother for 15 to 20 minutes while talking to the 911 operator.

“She was somewhat breathing... she would breathe in with a deep inhale, and then exhale and wouldn’t breath for two minutes,” Buzzard said. “I don’t think I really was thinking about it. I was just doing automatically what I had to do to keep her alive.”

Tri-County Fire Protection District Chief Doug Ray and two of his first responders, Clint Weber and wife Jennifer, were eating at a local Beecher City restaurant when the call came in. All three rushed from the restaurant to the Buzzard residence west of Beecher City in rural Fayette County, close to a mile from the Effingham-Fayette county line.

“We were the first three to arrive,” Ray said. “She (Renee) was doing CPR when we walked in.”

“I knew we had a dire situation when we arrived,” Ray said. “And I immediately called for the helicopter.”

Ray said they took over for Renee and used an (AED) automatic external defibrillator on her mother the maximum of five times.

“With something like that, time is everything,” Ray added.

Ray said, along with an Air Evac Lifeteam, two ambulance crews — one from Rural Med EMS out of Vandalia and Abbott Ambulance from Effingham — responded to the scene.

“The helicopter and the ambulances all arrived at about the same time, “ Ray said. “At one time, all crews were working on her.”

Once Allison Buzzard was aboard the helicopter, the crew pilot, Bill Paquette, nurse Andra Herdes and paramedic Jeff Kiesling flew Allison to HSHS St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, where doctors said her heart’s electrical system had shut down, a situation in which 95 percent of patients do not survive. Allison was given a pacemaker/defibrillator before being released from St. John’s.

Ray said it is remarkable someone who was having a severe cardiac arrest was able to come out of it alive.

“I’ve been doing firefighting for over 40 years and I’d never seen anything like that,” he said.

Allison considers herself lucky her daughter and son were at the house when the incident happened.

“If it were a regular school day, she would have been in school,” Allison said of her daughter. “She really held her own that day.”

Allison also recognized the efforts of her son, Bryce, who led emergency vehicles by phone to their residence because GPS doesn’t accurately pinpoint the exact location of it.

“He called my husband, parents and in-laws to let them know right away what was going on,” Buzzard said. “My kids were just absolutely amazing.”

Allison is grateful to the all-volunteer fire department and others who came to her aid that day.

“My yard and house was full that day of people who stopped their daily routine to come and help me,” Allison said.

While life has resumed for Buzzard, she said her pacemaker/defibrillator allows medical personnel to monitor her heart activity daily.

The Tri-County Fire Protection District presented Renee with a certificate of merit for helping to keep her mother alive.

“Renee’s certificate is only the second certificate I’ve given out in 15 years,” Ray said.

Renee is pursuing a nursing career. She received a direct admission into the University of Southern Indiana, Evansville, nursing program this fall for having a high grade-point average in high school. Students not receiving a direct admission have to wait a year before being eligible to enter the nursing program.

Charles Mills can be reached at or by phone at 217-347-7151 ext. 126.

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