Heroes get their due

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Jim Thompson @Jimtnwfdn

NAVARRE — If Randal Leonard’s wife had not sent him to the Walmart Supercenter one day last month, the 59-year-old man might not have seen his 60th birthday, coming up in September.

Luckily, he’s now set to reach that milestone, and he had a chance Friday to publicly thank four bystanders who sprang into action to help save his life after he suffered cardiac arrest in the store.

Those four people were also thanked by their community as Santa Rosa County officials presented them with 9-1-1 Hero awards.

“I want to thank everybody for jumping in and helping me,” Leonard said Friday afternoon as the awards were presented in the same Walmart on Navarre Parkway.

“This is one of the things about living in a small town; people jumping in to help,” he said.

Leonard was home alone last month when his wife called to remind him of the errands he needed to run. When he was stricken, two Walmart employees, Rhonda Crenshaw and Michael Whitaker, came to his aid quickly after he crumpled to the floor. They were joined by Nicole Wright, a former Canadian police officer, and Mickey O’Reilly, a former emergency services worker and law officer.

As Wright called 911 and took charge of the scene, she and the other three took turns administering CPR until Sheriff’s Deputy Sheri Stovall arrived with an automatic electronic defibrillator (AED) to shock Leonard’s heart into a sustainable rhythm. Also responding were firefighters from the Holley-Navarre Fire District, Lifeguard Ambulance Service and ShandsCair 6, a University of Florida Health emergency medical flight team.

In addition to the four people who first rushed to Leonard’s aid, representatives of the other agencies involved were on hand Friday as Santa Rosa County Emergency Management Director Brad Baker presented the four with the 9-1-1 Hero plaques.

Crenshaw, who had worked as a medical technician before starting a career with Walmart, guessed that she and the other three rescuers alternated performing CPR for about 10 minutes before Stovall arrived with the defibrillator.

“He was already down when I came around the corner,” Crenshaw remembered, and she “just joined in” the effort to keep Leonard alive.

“The first thing he asked (when he came to the Walmart on Friday) was what he could do for me,” Crenshaw said.

She said she told Leonard that seeing him alive and well was all she needed.

O’Reilly said seeing Leonard after the rescue was “a once-in-a-lifetime kind of deal.” Routinely, he said, emergency responders “don’t see our ‘saves’ at the end of the day.”

For her part, Wright was grateful but not necessarily surprised that the training she received during her law enforcement career kicked in last month.

“It’s second nature,” she said. “It has to be.”

 Whitaker, a co-manager at Walmart, said he was glad to see Leonard doing well.

“It’s just an amazing blessing,” said Whitaker, who added that his experience in helping Leonard has prepared him to deal with other emergencies that might occur at the store.

Having bystanders ready and willing to help wasn’t the only circumstance that got assistance quickly to Leonard. Just a couple weeks before, the county had installed a new emergency communications antenna near the Walmart. The project was funded by a local sales tax approved by Santa Rosa County voters. Before the new antenna was installed, emergency personnel callled to incidents inside the Walmart had difficulty with radio communication.

“It’s just neat how everything came into place,” Baker said.    

Leonard said he didn’t remember suffering the heart attack, nor does he remember much of what happened for some days after the incident.

He remains amazed and grateful for the help he got from four strangers and emergency responders.

“I’m not a very outgoing person,” he said, almost apologetically. “A lot of people went way out of their way to help me.”


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