Local hometown heroes

Published 10:32 am Thursday, September 18, 2008

Like it or not, Rita Hanegraaf is a hero.

Wayne Robinson, too, but because Wayne assisted Rita, Hanegraaf earned the hero’s label Wednesday.

The TV reporter called her that in an interview.

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Officials from the Mower County chapter of the American Red Cross were there to certify her for nomination for the prestigious “Certificate of Merit” honor.

Only one other Mower Countian has ever received the award: Mike Silvis, an assistant manager at HyVee Food Store in Austin.

Hanegraaf will be the next.

“I was just lucky enough to be there and know what to do,” Hanegraaf said of her actions Tuesday, Sept. 9.

There’s a 73-year-old Rose Creek woman who, everyone agrees, owes her life to Hanegraaf.

The story unfolded thusly:

The 2008 State Primary Election was being held Sept. 9. Voters in Windom Township and the city of Rose Creek went to the polls to cast ballots at the nearly-new Windom Township Hall and Rose Creek City Hall.

Eight voting judges watched over the voting machines for the township and eight others for the city.

According to Hanegraaf, she was sitting next to an elderly women who appeared to be in some distress. “I said ‘OmiGod, she’s choking’,” Hanegraaf recalled.

First, she attempted the Heimlich maneuver and asked the victim, “Are you choking.” The woman replied “No.”

She shouted for someone to call emergency 9-1-1. The woman was still in obvious distress and unable to communicate. With Robinson’s assistance, they laid her to the floor and began Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CRP) on the victim both mouth-to-mouth and chest compressions.

While other horrified election judges watched, Hanegraaf with assistance from Robinson tried to revive the victim.

Seconds, then minutes, ticked away.

Robinson , a retired long-time volunteer Rose Creek firefighter, raced to the township and city fire trucks parked in the multi-purpose emergency services building for an oxygen mask.

None of the trucks, nor the township and city hall offices, were equipped with the Automated External Defibrillator (AED) equipment to revive heart attack victims.

Mower County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrived at the scene with the AED equipment in their squad cars.

The victim was gasping for breath, but had a pulse. The deputies were able to revive her.

An ambulance was called and the victim was rushed — alive — to a hospital for treatment.

Rita Hanegraaf is the office manager for Northern Country Co-op at Rose Creek.

Married, she and her husband, Tom, former dairy farmers, have a son Jim, Austin, daughter Sheila (Mrs. David) Tangren, Elkton, and another son, Jeff, Austin, plus three grandchildren.

Hanegraaf is also the Windom Township treasurer.

And, most importantly in this instance, she has completed CPR and other life-saving training with the Mower County chapter of the American Red Cross.

“All I could say after she was revived was ‘Thank God’,” she said. “I was really calm while I was giving her CPR, but afterwards I just lost it and was very emotional.”

Hanegraaf deflected the suggestion that she was a hero, saying only she was “lucky to be there and to know what to do.”

She has participated in Red Cross training and re-training, including a mock disaster at the Southland Elementary School in Rose Creek. Once she assisted another elderly woman who fell at a farmers’ market and inured herself.

But, saving a life? Never before.

“I was just thankful to be here when she needed me,” Hanegraaf said. “I’m not a hero. I’m just somebody who was there.”

The incident occurred on the morning of primary election day. Later that same day, Hanegraaaf returned to continue her election judge duties and remained until the polls closed and ballots were counted.

In recalling the incident, Hanegraaf said she remembered telling Robinson, who traded doing chest compressions with her, “I have a pulse.” That was a turning point in the emergency.

Hanegraaf said she is most satisfied, “I did the right thing, and I did it right.”

As far as her Red Cross training went, Hanegraaf said, “If I hadn’t had the training, I don’t know what might have happened.

Penny Bartech and Aaron Stewart were present to interview Hanegraaf for the nomination for the organization’s Certificate of Merit award.

Both added their praise to that of onlookers at Wednesday’s ceremonies.

The victim, who asked to remain anonymous, was scheduled to be released from the hospital Wednesday.

When she is released, she will go into an area nursing home for recovery.

Plans are already being made to hold a fundraiser to purchase AED equipment for the firefighters’, city’s and township’s use in life saving incidents such as the primary election day one.

Guess who will be first in line to take the training?