By Sue Wilson, American Red Cross volunteer
March 15, 2019- Almost 20 years ago, the American Red Cross featured an article about a grandmother who saved the life of her granddaughter by performing CPR. That grandma, Kate Cherney, was not a doctor or a nurse, but a teacher of medical assisting and phlebotomy. She had been trained in CPR. Her daughter, Kelli Pavlas, then a young mom pregnant with her second baby at the time, said that the day of the incident was like any normal day. Her then 18-month-old daughter Alyssa had no signs or symptoms that something was about to happen. Kelli shares the story: “We were at my parents’ house watching a Cleveland Indians game. It was a perfectly normal day. My daughter was playing with my mom, sitting on her lap, when all of a sudden her eyes rolled in the back of her head and she went totally limp.”
Kelli said her mom, Grandma Kate, responded immediately, calling Alyssa’s name and checking for a response, then placing her flat on the floor to check for a pulse or breathing. There was nothing. Kate called for her husband to call 911 and immediately began CPR.
“I was 21 and pregnant with my second child,” said Kelli. “I was not a nurse and did not know CPR. I was frozen. I didn’t know how to help!”
After several rounds, Alyssa began to respond. EMS arrived and took the child to the hospital, where tests were run and she was observed for some time, but no cause was found. Kelli explained, “All we know is that she would not have made it if my mom didn’t intervene and perform CPR.”
Kelli had many sleepless nights after that. She’d set an alarm hourly to check on her daughter. But she did more than that. She immediately enrolled in a CPR class, as did her sisters. And then? “I was very inspired by what happened and I decided to become a nurse to help others.”
All these years later, what became of that baby? Alyssa Balog is now saving lives herself as a cardiac nurse at the Cleveland Clinic. And she has a “pay it forward” story of her own.
While in nursing school, Alyssa would spend some nights at her grandparents’ house because it was a close distance to her clinicals. One evening, when her grandma Kate was out for a walk with a neighbor, her grandpa told Alyssa he wasn’t feeling well. After checking his pulse and noting other symptoms, she knew something was wrong. So she took him to the emergency room, where they discovered he was in atrial fibrillation. Kelli said, “In a way, Alyssa was able to repay the favor in a small way by assisting my dad who had assisted in saving her.”
Kelli feels certain that if her mom did not have CPR training, Alyssa would not be here today to help not only the many patients she cares for but also help her grandpa on that fateful evening. “I probably would not be a nurse myself,” added Kelli. “My mom’s actions inspired us to help others.”
In fact, when Kelli gave birth all those years ago, she had another beautiful baby girl. She named her Kate, after her mom, who she said is her hero.
Kelli, her daughter Alyssa and matriarch Kate are all living testaments to the importance of knowing CPR. They believe you never know when it could be your opportunity to make a difference.
Kelli and her family all received their CPR training through the American Red Cross. To get information on Red Cross CPR training near you, click here.
Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross Volunteer