Contractors turn into lifesavers when colleague stricken

A normal day nearly turns tragic, but thanks to the fast reaction of CGI staffer Meghan Pituch and two colleagues a man's life was saved.

As the after-lunch lethargy was settling in on March 2 at CGI Group Inc.’s Washington Navy Yard office, workers got a jolt of adrenaline when people starting yelling, “Call 911!” and “Who knows CPR?”

Meghan Pituch, 26, a graphic artist and analyst who’s worked at the Montreal-based IT company for four years, jumped out of her seat and ran toward the commotion. She found her colleague, 62-year-old Bruce Strissel, slumped over in his chair. Some coworkers froze in fear while others ran to dial 911 or fled in search of help.

Pituch got moving, too – toward Strissel. She and Donna Jordan, a colleague who works for BAE Systems, performed CPR on the government worker while another colleague Barbara Gault, who is certified in CPR, supervised them until the paramedics arrived. Because of their quick thinking and swift action, Strissel is alive and well today.

To recognize their efforts, the American Heart Association (AHA); the DC City Council; and DC Fire and Emergency Medical Services honored the three women as Heartsaver Heroes at a ceremony at the City Council steps on June 2. Part of National CPR Week, they each received a framed award certificate and a letter of recognition from DC Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr.

“Even though Meghan was not certified in CPR at the time, she, Barbara and Donna demonstrated that being active responders saves lives,” said Cheryl Campbell, senior vice president at CGI and a member of AHA’s Mid-Atlantic Affiliate Board of Directors. “This shows you simply cannot be a passive bystander in times of an emergency medical crisis.”
She also accepted a Heartsaver Hero Company Award for CGI’s incorporation of CPR certification and wellness initiatives into the workplace. For instance, the company offers free CPR certification through AHA training, and it helped raise almost $1 million at the Heart Ball in McLean, Va., in March.

“CGI specializes in health information technology, and I always like to say that we deliberately lead with the ‘health’ in ‘health information technology,’” Campbell said. “Like many employers, we have a vested interest in health programs and education and are committed to improving the lives of our employees, clients and the people in our community. Great partnerships make great communities and we are proud to work so closely with the American Heart Association to help deliver on our commitments.”

Pituch said she plans to become certified through CGI’s program, likely by the end of the month. To help Strissel, however, she channeled what she learned from television and her husband.

“I used to watch ‘Rescue 911’ all the time when I was little and am still a big fool for TV. But my husband also was a lifeguard down in North Carolina so I’ve heard him tell stories, kind of relay what you’re supposed to do during CPR so I think that triggered,” Pituch said. “I was kind of spitting out commands of what we needed to do and no one was stepping up to the plate, no one was saying they were certified. Everyone just kind of stood there and froze. Me and Donna just looked at each other and said, ‘All right. Let’s do this.’”

Jordan handled mouth-to-mouth breathing, while Pituch administered chest compressions.

“I’m not even sure how long Donna and I were doing it for because it’s such a blur,” Pituch said.

Today, Strissel looks better than ever, Pituch said, and is grateful to his coworkers. “He’s still pretty speechless. He sent us flowers and he says thank you all the time,” she said. “I told him he doesn’t need to worry about thanking us anymore. Him just being here and seeing how healthy he is now is a pretty good thank you to me.”

Campbell said the goal of National CPR Week and CGI’s CPR training is to enable more people to act when the occasion arises. “Sadly, 70 percent of Americans may feel helpless to act during a cardiac emergency because they either do not know how to administer CPR or their training has significantly lapsed. This alarming statistic could hit close to home, because home is exactly where 80 percent of cardiac arrests occur,” she said.

“The American Heart Association is calling on all Americans to learn how to give hands-only CPR by watching a simple one-minute video at heart.org/cpr. Once you have learned CPR, share this information with five people you care about and give them the power to save lives by equipping them to act quickly in a crisis. We want more than 1 million people to do this,” Campbell added.

Pituch said she wants to share her experience to encourage people to respond when an emergency strikes. “I used to think CPR was only for lifeguards and nurses in the ER,” she said. “This really can happen anywhere at any time. Have the knowledge, be educated, be prepared.”

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