By putting his CPR skills into action and keeping a cool head, a Grand Forks teenager recently saved his grandmother's life. Now, he's going to receive the Medal of Heroism from the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps for his efforts.
Martin Wetstein, 16, a sophomore at Grand Forks Central High School, had taken CPR and first-aid training in Maggie Archer's health class last fall. He used that knowledge and skill to save his grandmother, Francine McVeigh, 55, of Northwood, N.D., when her heart stopped and she collapsed in his Grand Forks home.
Later, when she awoke in the intensive care unit at Altru Hospital, her doctor told her that her grandson's actions saved her.
"He said if my grandson had not done CPR for as long as he did, I'd be brain dead or dead," she said. "I was down for more than eight or nine minutes."
It happened in late March. McVeigh was driving north on I-29, bringing her granddaughters to their home in Grand Forks, when she was exposed to peanuts. That caused an allergic reaction, she said.
"My granddaughter accidentally drank out of my cup," she said. "I was about six or seven miles from my daughter's house."
One of her granddaughters grabbed McVeigh's EpiPen from her purse and gave her a shot. An EpiPen is a self-injecting device that delivers epinephrine to treat life-threatening allergic reactions to things like bee stings, peanuts or seafood.
When they arrived at McVeigh's daughter's house, her daughter, Victoria Wetstein, was not home but Martin Wetstein was.
"He said I didn't look good," she recalled. "I said I was OK."
She then passed out and collapsed on the floor.
"My grandson tore open my shirt and cut my bra off and started CPR," she said.
When the allergic reaction occurred, "my throat closed up and my heart rate goes down and down, and eventually it stops," she said.
Wetstein kept his composure. He called 911 immediately and put the phone on speaker mode, he said.
His grandmother "had taken two EpiPens before she collapsed," he said. "I started doing compressions-30 compressions at a rate of 100 per minute and two breaths."
Asked what he remembers of the event, he said, "At the moment, I was not thinking about it much; time went by so quick. Time meant nothing.
"She had died on me twice, and at the end I had her heart going."
In the process, "I broke four of her ribs," he said.
McVeigh learned later that during CPR, Wetstein would get a faint pulse, but then her heart would stop again.
After the ambulance arrived and she was on her way to the hospital, her heart stopped once, and first responders had to do CPR again, she said.
Her heart stopped again at Altru Hospital, she said. "And my heart rate would not come up."
She was admitted to the hospital's intensive care unit, where she stayed two days.
This wasn't the first time McVeigh has had allergic reactions like this, but, with the use of an EpiPen and being close enough to a hospital, the incidents had never been as serious.
It's fitting that the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps acknowledges her grandson's extraordinary accomplishment, because he-like many others in the family-is interested in the military.
"He wants to be in the Marines," McVeigh said. "That's all he's talked about since he was 7 years old."
He's been in the JROTC program at Grand Forks Central for two years.
For his lifesaving efforts, Wetstein has received an award, a certificate from the JROTC organization. He will receive the Medal of Heroism when the JROTC program resumes next school year, he said.
"It's a medal that hasn't been given out in many years," McVeigh said.
The Medal of Heroism will be presented to him at a school pep rally in the fall, Wetstein said. "They have to find a colonel to present it."
By telling her story, McVeigh is hoping to increase young people's awareness of the importance of CPR and first-aid training.
"I just want people to know that our teenagers are able to do things like that," she said.
For her, it was the difference between life and death.