VCU Police Officer Ellsworth “Sonny” Pryor is a nationally registered and state-certified EMT. He teaches tactical first aid and CPR to VCU Police Academy recruits, is a basic life support instructor for the American Heart Association and is a tactical combat casualty care instructor for the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians.

Change in assignment leads VCU Police officer to save woman’s life

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Officer Ellsworth “Sonny” Pryor wasn’t supposed to be at the top of the emergency department driveway, not on the VCU Health MCV Campus taking calls or responding to the call for an “unresponsive female” that came over the police radio.

Purely by chance, the Virginia Commonwealth University Police officer was called to the MCV Campus on a recent afternoon to handle calls for service.

For one woman visiting VCU Medical Center that day, her life depended on Pryor’s last-minute switch in assignments.

Inside the hospital, the woman fell to the floor in full cardiac arrest as Pryor parked just outside the doors. Pryor was within walking distance from the entrance and heard the transmissions on his patrol radio regarding an unresponsive female inside the hospital.

With his decades of experience as a certified emergency medical technician and former advanced life support provider, Pryor’s thoughts switched from law enforcement to emergency care as he arrived at the woman’s side.  

The medic in me started kicking in and I started to observe if she was breathing or not.

“The medic in me started kicking in and I started to observe if she was breathing or not,” Pryor said in an interview afterward. “My first thought was, ‘Is she breathing?’ If not, then there would be no pulse shortly thereafter.”

Pryor immediately heard the woman’s “agonal respiration,” an abnormal and gasping breath that did not bode well for her.

She had no pulse.

After instructing someone nearby to retrieve an automated external defibrillator machine, Pryor began CPR. He doesn’t recall the numerous hospital staffers who started responding. His focus was limited.

“My field of vision was the patient,” Pryor said.

VCU Police Officer Barney Burns worked with security personnel to keep pedestrians out of the area to give Pryor and hospital staff space to work.

Shannon Lubin, a clinical nurse and program coordinator for VCU Health’s Rapid Response Team quickly made it to Pryor’s side.

Two VCU Health Safety & Security staffers also maintained the scene. Tim Grosskopf, a security specialist, and Nelson Epps, an assistant security supervisor, held up blankets around the woman, whose chest was exposed for the AED.

Lubin said the simple act of blocking the outsiders’ view was exactly what should have happened. It maintained the woman’s dignity in such a public area.

“[Pryor] safely checked the area … [he] cleared the area and delivered a shock,” Lubin recalled.

On the third shock, the woman had a viable cardiac rhythm.

With the rhythm back, Lubin said the woman ultimately underwent what is known as an “ARCTIC Protocol.” ARCTIC has two goals: to restart the heart as quickly as possible following the onset of cardiac arrest, and to protect the brain by starting cooling as early as possible and bringing resuscitated patients to a single, specialized post-resuscitation facility. 

Three days later the woman was awake and talking again.

“If you can shock someone in the first two minutes for certain arrhythmias or when advised to do so on an AED, that’s the best chance you have to save them,” Lubin said. “This lady is alive because of these officers … Officer Pryor did exactly what he was supposed to do.”

The response was the whole package, Lubin said, the way an emergency such as this should be handled.

“I can't think of a better example of how we strive each day to be the safest hospital in America than this example. Our police and security keep us safe every day and in this instance they truly helped save a life … we are in awe of what we witnessed.”

The incident is just one of many times Pryor, who has worked at VCU Police since 2005, has responded to a medical crisis while on duty at VCU.

VCU Police recently recognized him for assisting a woman with a medical emergency on VCU’s Monroe Park Campus in August 2015; he stopped the woman from further injuring herself while in crisis and helped prepare her for ambulance transport to VCU Medical Center.

Four years ago Pryor was awarded a Meritorious Service Award by VCU Police. After a shooting on the 600 block of West Broad Street, Pryor found a man suffering from multiple gunshot wounds to the chest; he closed the wound and stopped the bleeding until an ambulance arrived.

For Pryor’s immediate response last month, and the quick work of security and hospital staff, Lubin is thankful.

“This is what collaboration looks like at VCU,” Lubin said. “It doesn’t get any better.”


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