Michigan National Guard
Story by Staff Sgt. Tegan Kucera
LANSING, Mich. -- A member of the Michigan National Guard’s (MING) COVID-19 Vaccination Testing Team (CVTT) used his combat medic experience to save a life during a coronavirus vaccination clinic on March 20.
With the help of the MING, the Oakland County Health Division held the vaccine clinic at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi and was able to vaccinate more than 4,100 Oakland County residents. However, during lunch a nurse started to choke on a piece of kale from her salad.
“I glanced over and noticed that everybody at the table next to us was staring at this one woman and didn’t think immediately that there was anything wrong,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Christian Grow, a combat medic with the Michigan Army National Guard, currently serving with the CVTT. “All of a sudden the look on her face changed rather quickly as she stood up.”
Grow was one of the many clinic workers who took a little down time to eat lunch, so there were several people who could have helped, but he was the first one to react.
“I couldn’t describe or tell what clicked in my mind, but there was a moment I can attribute to repetitive, constant training over the years, and everything clicked as I thought, she’s actually choking,” he said.
Grow was at the clinic helping to administer vaccines with Task Force Red Lion, part of the CVTT task force assembled by the Michigan National Guard to help county health departments with the COVID-19 vaccines. He has been a combat medic for ten years, and a few years after he completed his army medical training, he furthered his career on the civilian side by becoming a paramedic.
“I saw a National Guardsman pulling a woman out of her chair and lifting her up into the air doing what I thought was a classic Heimlich maneuver,” said Kirk Bankes, an Oakland County resident who volunteers at the clinic. “I think that probably saved her life.”
“For me personally, I’ve had training, but it was amazing for me to see it in action—I’ve never witnessed an actual choking event,” he said.
Bankes also volunteers with a mountain bike patrol where he has trained in the Heimlich maneuver along with cardiopulmonary resuscitation. This is the second time he has volunteered at a vaccine clinic and he said it’s inspiring to see the National Guard at the events.
Bankes said he heard someone struggling to breathe behind him and that by the time he turned around Grow had already rushed up to help.
“I seriously feel that had he not done that, I would have needed a tracheotomy to open my airway—it was very traumatic and very rapid,” said Jacqueline Goldstein, a registered nurse who is contracted to help with the Oakland County Health Division this year. “I’m really glad that he knew what to do and he didn’t hesitate, that is the most important thing.”
Goldstein was happy Grow was there for her when she needed it. She knew exactly what was happening, how her airway had closed up and she was suffocating and expected to lose consciousness. Among those thoughts about procedures, was the thought that it was all on account of a small piece of kale, and how it should at least been a piece of steak!
“He really saved my life, there’s no doubt about it in my mind,” said Goldstein.
While she has worked a couple of clinics with the National Guard, this is the first she has had any interaction with them, and she is thankful for the opportunity.
“I’m happy that we have the National Guard here. We have Oakland County employees who are working, staffing agencies filling positions and then there’s the National Guard,” said Goldstein. “It makes me personally really proud of our state that we are utilizing all of our resources in order to staff these clinics.”
Grow says he guided himself into medicine through the military and is continuing to further his medical career by going to back school for nursing. While he helps everyone in distress, it means a lot to him that he could help a nurse that day.
“We had a nice conversation afterwards where she explained to me that what I did to her was what needed to be done, and that she could actually feel better after the first couple of Heimlich maneuvers,” said Grow. “It was nice to hear it from a medical professional who knew what was going on and knew exactly what needed to be done.”
“Any task the Guard has been given here they do well, and then something like that happens out of the blue—you don’t expect anything like that to happen—a choking event in a vaccination clinic,” said Bankes. “Clearly he was ready and he didn’t hesitate and it worked—it was truly impressive.”