Despite rescuers’ best efforts, quiet Ozark County man dies of apparent heart attack
Duane O’Nele died Saturday morning despite the urgent, sustained efforts of more than a dozen strangers who tried to save him.
O’Nele, 60, had worked at the Giles and Kendall cedar mill in Gainesville since 2001, according to plant manager Bryan Campbell. Co-workers there knew him as a quiet, good-natured, dependable man who “kind of stayed to himself” but “had a heart of gold,” said employee Dawn Joslin. “Whenever we were doing something for someone, he always pitched in,” she said.
O’Nele’s Giles and Kendall co-workers looked out for him, said colleague Mary Beth McGee. “He was at work every day. He never missed,” Joslin added.
Unclear living arrangements
But that meant he sometimes came to work when he obviously wasn’t feeling well. Campbell, the plant manager, took O’Nele to the doctor – when he would agree to go. “The last two times I took him, he told me he didn’t have any family,” Campbell said. (On Monday, the Baxter County [Arkansas] Coroner’s Office confirmed to Campbell that an out-of-state relative had been located.)
Co-workers thought that in recent years O’Neal had been living in a rented mobile home near Zanoni. But recently his living arrangements “weren’t quite clear,” Campbell said.
We can’t know exactly why O’Nele came to the Lick Creek Bullseye station late Friday afternoon, the evening before he died. Bullseye employees Joe Ervin and Cheyanne Kroll think perhaps the air conditioning wasn’t working in his home or his pickup and maybe he came into the store to escape Friday’s 90-degree heat.
“He was real chipper when he came in,” Ervin said, adding that O’Nele settled into a booth near the door.
Ervin, a trained responder with Timber Knob VFD, left the store for a while Friday night to help other fire department volunteers water down the saddle club arena for that night’s rodeo in Gainesville. “But I checked on him three times that night, and he seemed to be doing OK,” he said.
Kroll brought O’Nele water throughout the evening as he sat at a table by the window. As she was preparing to close the store shortly before 10 p.m., she asked O’Nele if he had somewhere to go. “He didn’t really say much,” she said. “He just left, and I guess he got into his truck.”
‘He coded right in front of us’
Saturday morning, a Giles and Kendall co-worker, Margaret Strong, saw O’Nele sitting in his pickup outside Bullseye and urged him to come into the store with her. “She was telling him he needed to get inside, out of the heat,” said Ervin, who was working again that morning. “He was carrying his mug, and we got him some water.”
O’Nele sat down in the booth and slumped over the table, obviously ill. Ervin ran outside to his pickup to get a blood pressure cuff and his radio out of his emergency-responder kit. O’Nele’s blood pressure was “slightly elevated,” Ervin said. He radioed the sheriff’s department, summoning help.
The Ozark County Ambulance was out of the county on another call, but Gainesville VFD first responders Ed Doiron and Lisa Hoffman arrived on scene in about five minutes, followed by another GVFD first responder, Sage McGinnis, along with Ozark County’s new emergency management director Stephen Ator, who was on his way to work at the sheriff’s department.
The sheriff’s dispatcher told the first responders that the Cox Medical System ambulance was coming from Ava.
The responders evaluated O’Nele’s vital signs. “He was talking to us,” Doiron said. “He wasn’t complaining of chest pain.”
Doiron and McGinnis, who are emergency medical technicians with Ozark County Ambulance, were off duty Saturday morning and responding as GVFD volunteers. Hoffman is a nurse and was also off duty and responding as a GVFD volunteer. O’Nele’s condition seemed tenuous, and Doiron directed McGinnis to go to the ambulance base to get an oxygen tank and breathing apparatus for him.
Ervin was alternating between helping Kroll serve the steady flow of Saturday morning Bullseye customers and also helping Doiron and Hoffman as they worked to help O’Nele.
“And then, basically, he coded right in front of us,” Doiron said.
Ervin, watching from behind the counter as he helped the last customer in line, saw O’Nele “starting to seize” and hurried to help.
10 rescuers in the back of an ambulance
Doiron radioed McGinnis, who had just arrived at the ambulance base, and told him not to bring just the oxygen but to bring the back-up ambulance. “We’re working a code,” Doiron told him, knowing they would need the automatic emergency defibrillator the ambulance carried. Air Evac was also requested at that time.
McGinnis had arrived at the base shortly after EMT Brian Morgan had gotten there to begin his shift with the ambulance service. With the main Ozark County Ambulance still out of the county, returning from a run to Branson, the two men raced back to Bullseye in the district’s backup ambulance.
The team working on O’Nele there had checked for a pulse after he collapsed – and found none.
“We laid him on the floor, and Lisa started chest compressions,” Ervin said.
Erwin started “bagging” O’Nele immediately, rhythmically squeezing the bag on a BVM (bag valve device) to force oxygen into his lungs. He would continue the effort for nearly an hour.
Hearing the call on the radio, Lick Creek VFD chief Jerry Rowlett also arrived on the scene. Never stopping the compressions and bagging, the emergency workers hurriedly loaded O’Nele onto a stretcher and loaded him into the ambulance to transport him a little more than 100 yards to the site of the former Gainesville fire department building, which would become Air Evac’s landing zone.
When the helicopter landed, the two Air Evac flight nurses joined the team in the ambulance as they continued to try to restart O’Nele’s heart. The Cox Ambulance arrived from Ava, and two of its crew members also joined the team. “At one time, I think there were about 10 of us in the back of the ambulance, working on him,” Brian Morgan said. “Finally, one of the Air Evac crew said, ‘You’ve got to get some air back here.’ It was pretty warm with all of us in there.”
The team of rescuers was doing everything they knew to do – every procedure, every treatment in their bag of heroics, taking turns doing the chest compression as exhaustion set in. It’s standard procedure not to stop CPR once it has started until the patient arrives at a hospital and a physician determines whether the rescue efforts should continue or cease. But it’s nearly impossible to perform CPR in an Air Evac helicopter. That meant O’Nele would not be flying to the hospital in the Air Evac helicopter. And because the flight nurses – and the Cox Ambulance crew members – had become part of the CPR team, they would remain with the patient as the backup Ozark County Ambulance transported O’Nele to Baxter Regional Medical Center in Mountain Home, Arkansas.
Ervin, who had started bagging O’Nele seconds after he collapsed, finally turned over that job to one of the other rescuers about five minutes before the Air Evac helicopter left, carrying only the pilot. Off-duty Ozark County Ambulance employee John Russo drove the Ozark County Ambulance to BRMC. Inside were O’Nele, the two Air Evac flight nurses and the two Cox Ambulance crew members, all continuing the resuscitation attempt nonstop. The Cox Ambulance followed so it could pick up its crew members and its equipment that was being used as the medical team continued to try and save O’Nele.
According to the sheriff’s department dispatch log, the ambulance was in route to the hospital at 9:56 a.m. and arrived at 10:13 a.m. The log notes the mileage as 27 miles.
Giles and Kendall employees Brian Campbell and Margaret Strong also rushed to the hospital, hoping to support their co-worker and friend. But a few minutes after they arrived in the emergency room, “a nurse came out and told us he didn’t make it,” Campbell said.
Duane O’Nele was, according to those who knew him, a quiet man who moved among us without drawing attention to himself. Those who knew him mourn his death – and so do the small-town first responders who didn’t know him but rushed quickly and worked valiantly to try and save him.