Anna-Marie Lipka says she was just doing her job. Kara George is thankful she was.
Kara’s husband, Andy, was driving east on Int. 96 in Ionia County the evening of Dec. 1 when he lost consciousness. Anna-Marie, a registered nurse at Mary Free Bed, was traveling behind him with her husband, Ben, when she noticed something was wrong.
“He was driving erratically, and when my husband passed him on the left, I looked over to see what was happening and noticed he was unconscious,” Anna-Marie said. “I told Ben to pull over – something in me just felt like I could help. His car went off the road and miraculously did not hit anything.”
Two men who also stopped at the scene broke a window to gain access to the locked vehicle and helped Anna-Marie get Andy to the ground while Ben called 911.
“He wasn’t breathing, and I could not feel a pulse. I started chest compressions and after two rounds, he took in a deep breath and I felt a strong pulse,” Anna-Marie said. “It was amazing, truly.”
Andy was transported by ambulance to Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital, where he spent 5 days. Doctors remain unsure what caused Andy to lose consciousness, but suspect he may have had a seizure caused by a concussion he sustained in a motorcycle accident months before, Kara said. He suffered from short-term memory loss in the weeks following, but his recovery has “been remarkable,” she added.
“I truly believe that without Anna-Marie, he may not even be here right now,” Kara said. “She was able to provide him with the medical attention he needed in those first critical minutes that truly not only saved his life but allowed him to have such an amazing, fast recovery.
“It’s really hard to put into words how grateful we are to Anna-Marie. The whole thing is just such a miracle, and we are truly blessed that she was there.”
Anna-Marie has been recognized for her efforts as an “Everyday Hero” by Wrangler Jeans. Wrangler began the program last fall, teaming up with NFL quarterback and Wrangler endorsee Drew Brees to honor and reward those who have served others.
Wrangler saw a media story detailing Anna-Marie’s heroic act and selected her for the honor. During a special event Friday at Mary Free Bed, she was presented with a gift basket containing jeans and a $100 Visa gift card. Wrangler also made a $100 donation in Anna-Marie’s name to the Brees Dream Foundation, which provides care, education and opportunities for children and families in need.
“These unsung, everyday heroes know what it means to embrace a ‘comfort under pressure’ attitude when faced with life’s most challenging and uncomfortable choices,” Brees, 2009 Super Bowl MVP-winning quarterback for the New Orleans Saints, said in a news release. “From the stranger next door to a local public servant, the Wrangler Everyday Heroes share a vision of inspiration that helps to make our lives a little bit more comfortable, and that deserves a great deal of recognition.”
The Everyday Heroes program has honored a variety of people, including a man encouraging literacy in his community, a family that saved another family from a sinking boat and dedicated full-time community volunteers.
“I’m so honored,” said Anna-Marie. “Many people have called me a hero since that day, but I felt like I was just doing my job. I was happy that I was there at the right time and place to help, and all that mattered to me was that he was going to be OK.”
Her efforts were no surprise to Robin VanderVeen, nursing director of Mary Free Bed’s Stroke and Brain Injury Program and Anna-Marie’s supervisor.
“Anna-Marie is an engaged and enthusiastic employee. She puts the patient first and works to provide exceptional experiences to those she serves,” Robin said. “She encompasses the role and characteristics of nursing in her career as well as her personal life. She exudes the compassion and caring that lifts the nursing profession to high standards.
“Anna-Marie is not only a blessing for our patients here at Mary Free Bed, but to our community as a whole. We thank her for her outstanding courage and heroism.”
Friday’s event to honor Anna-Marie was held in the hospital solarium and attended by Mary Free Bed CEO Kent Riddle, chief nursing officer Ingrid Cheslek and dozens of co-workers from across campus – and Andy.
Andy, Kara and their daughters, Madeline, 7; Ellie, 6; Abigail, 4; and Josephine, 1, walked into the crowded room to a very surprised Anna-Marie, eliciting cheers and tears from those in attendance.
“Obviously, I have a lot to be saved for,” Andy said. “So I appreciate that.”