Step up to the plate: How taking charge saves lives

This past January, senior Chris Miller’s education became more than just computerized tests and lessons in a classroom. On January 10, he and fellow gym-goer Andrew Reuss helped to save a man’s life.

A criminal justice major, Miller had traveled with friends for the weekend leading up to the incident at Planet Fitness. Due to threatening weather conditions, he and his friends headed home early. It was this change in plans that led to Miller’s presence in North Huntingdon, Pa., and his decision to exercise at Planet Fitness that night.

Upon Miller’s arrival at the Planet Fitness facility the evening of January 10, he saw a crowd of people around a fallen man. 59-year-old Thomas Harrity had been exercising on an elliptical when he lost consciousness and collapsed.

Miller arrived shortly after the fall. Noticing Harrity on the floor, he rushed over to where an unnamed

Miller steps up to the plate and prepares to take a swing. Miller says the experience he gains from baseball played a role in his actions at Planet Fitness. Photo courtesy of TRIBLive.

Miller steps up to the plate and prepares to take a swing. Miller says the experience he gains from baseball played a role in his actions at Planet Fitness. Photo courtesy of TRIBLive.

woman was already performing chest compressions. He took charge, asking Ruess to take over the compressions. Miller then grabbed the AED and, reading the analysis the AED provided, made the decision to administer a shock to Harrity’s chest. He and Ruess continued the chest compressions until emergency responders arrived. A few minutes after the shock, Harrity sat up, disoriented but alive.

Miller’s knowledge came from an exercise science elective he had taken the previous fall semester. “I first learned to use an AED in a class I took in the fall semester called Emergency Preparedness – the professor was Tracey Bowman.”

In addition to taking classes as Miller did, how can students prepare themselves to act quickly in a crisis? Dr. Elizabeth Jacobs, a professor of psychology at Seton Hill, has some insight from a psychological perspective.

“First, you have to be able to identify when there’s a crisis,” says Jacobs. “Then you have to assume a level of personal responsibility, know what to do, and implement those actions.” Jacobs acknowledges that though these steps may seem simple, the reality is often much different.

“In situations of crisis, we lose confidence in our own competencies to know what happened as well as what to do, and start to look around to other people for information about what happened.” Instead of taking action as Miller did, most people assume that someone else is handling the situation. This can be dangerous and may potentially lead to fatal consequences, as could have happened to Harrity had Miller not been on the scene.

“Be ready to give orders,” says Jacobs. “Part of the decision to not act is based on an implicit assumption that someone else will.”

In an interview for the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference website, Miller credited his experience on the baseball field as a major factor in the speed of his response that day. A catcher for the Seton Hill men’s baseball team, he spoke of the need to be fearless.

He also spoke of advice given to him by his father – a retired police officer, currently a sitting District Judge – who, through words and example, had shown him the importance of split-second decisions. “I want to be just like him in every way, be fearless in everything I do and be able to help and make a difference with people.”

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