A custodian at Gotsch Intermediate School used CPR and a defibrillator to stabilize a poll worker who had a heart attack just after the polls closed on Election Day.
Emira Adilovic’s quick action kept the poll worker alive during the approximately 20 minutes needed for the fire department to arrive and transport the worker to the hospital.
The poll worker, whom the custodians know only as George, died Friday after four days in the hospital.
Tears well in Adilovic’s eyes when she thinks of the death of a man she tried so hard to save.
“I am sad,” said Adilovic, who was born in Bosnia, “but I am happy because he had time with his family.”
Jumping into action
Tim Showers, another custodian at Gotsch, had just closed the building at the end of voting on Election Day when he saw the poll worker collapse and turn blue.
“I knew right away his heart had stopped,” said Showers, who has a family history with heart problems.
And he knew what to do: call Adilovic, who is trained in first aid.
“She’s a very, very special person always willing to help,” Showers said. She’d told Showers she could use a defibrillator just in case he ever experienced an episode with his heart. “So I knew she was the right person to get down and start working on this gentleman while I talked to the dispatcher on the phone.”
Adilovic rushed to start CPR, but when she noticed his tongue was curled down into his mouth, she reached in, cleared his airway and began mouth-to-mouth.
Adilovic ran (“like a jackrabbit,” Showers said) to get the defibrillator at the front door of the school while another woman continued chest compressions. At one point, the woman tried to convince Adilovic to stop, that the man had died.
“Pump, pump, pump!” Adilovic remembers screaming at the woman, refusing to believe he'd died. “I tell her, ‘Don’t stop! Just go!’”
Fellow custodian Laura Showalter ran to the front of the building to direct the fire fighters to the poll worker’s location.
“Every second in a heart attack matters a whole lot,” Showers said. “We worked as a team. I think that really helped because we saved a lot of time.”
After a while—Showers says 10 minutes, Adilovic says 25—fire fighters arrived and relieved Adilovic from giving first aid.
This is not the first time Adilovic has saved a life with her bare hands.
About eight years ago, Adilovic heard a girl having a grand mal seizure, causing glass to break and slice through a blood vessel in the girl’s neck.
Adilovic pushed aside the girl’s mother, who was trying to use clothes to stop the bleeding, and inserted her own fingers into the cut to close the vessel.
“I always help who needs my help,” Adilovic said. “I will not change myself. I am a person who just acts quickly. No matter what happened, I just help.”
Helping a poll worker on Election Day was particularly meaningful to Adilovic, who passed the exam to become an official U.S. citizen in October.
Until Adilovic has been sworn in as a citizen, she cannot vote, so despite passing her exam, she could not cast her own ballot on Tuesday. But Adilovic seems pleased to have been able to help the election in her own way—by keeping a poll worker alive.
“I love politics,” Adilovic said, naming candidates from Tuesday’s ballot she knows personally. “I am a big Democrat,” she added, smiling.
Death after life
News of the poll worker’s death hit Adilovic, Showers and Showalter hard.
“I feel so bad for the family,” Showers said. “I know that’s a bad thing to lose somebody, but we just hope they got to spend a little bit of time before they lost them.”
Showers lost his father to a heart attack and said he wishes he’d been able to reach his father one last time to say goodbye.
“I’ll be praying for them,” he said. “I prayed for half an hour straight that night.”