Queen's medical students help save man's life at Kingston grocery store

Queen's University medical students Alexandra Morra and Nabil Hawwa visit Jim Morgan in the hospital after saving his life last week. (Queen's Health Sciences Faculty/Supplied Photo)

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A pair of Queen’s University medical students and a recently graduated nurse saved a Kingston man’s life this past week after he collapsed in a local grocery store.

The trio used their recently acquired medical training to help Jim Morgan during those critical few minutes that decide whether someone will die, have debilitating brain damage or recover. Because of their intervention, Morgan not only lived but was on his feet at the hospital a few days later. 

For Queen’s medical students Alex Morra and Nabil Hawwa, the experience was deeply moving for them personally, and an affirmation of their decision to become doctors. 

“I have been struggling a bit with getting too bogged down in the details of medicine and what I want to specialize in,” Hawwa explained. “This event was like a sign. It was a slap in the face to tell me it wasn’t about the details or the specialty; it’s about the person.

“All the times we worked out asses off, hit the wall, failed, and all that stuff was worth it because we got to make a difference in someone’s life.”

The incident happened while Morra and Hawwa, who are a couple, went grocery shopping together. While browsing the aisles at Loblaws, they noticed that a small crowd had formed in part of the store.

They went over to see what the commotion was about and found people standing around a man lying on the floor. A woman was already kneeling over him, assessing his condition. Their medical training took over almost immediately.

“We snapped into this unconscious sort of zone. From that moment it was: We have to go. The entire time, in my head I was like, ‘What can I do to help, what do I know, what can I do now?’” 

They found that Morgan had no detectable pulse in his hands, which were turning white. He barely had a pulse when they checked the carotid artery in his neck. It also appeared that he had hit his head. 

The woman who had arrived to assist Morgan first was a newly graduated nurse who was visiting Kingston. Unfortunately, her identity is not known. 

The three medics quickly became a team as they began doing chest compressions and rescue breaths to keep Morgan alive. Morra directed Loblaws staff to fetch the store’s automated external defibrillator.

“They ran and brought it back in like a minute,” Hawwa recalled. “We know this guy is in critical condition. Because he had almost no pulse in his neck meant that there was no blood going to his brain. It was very much a life-or-death situation.”

As soon as they were able to get the defibrillator’s paddles on his chest, the device indicated that Morgan had a “shockable rhythm,” which means his heart was pumping so weakly and erratically it was not circulating any blood. The only way to fix that was with a large jolt of electricity.

They cleared everyone away and used the defibrillator. The first charge almost seemed like it would revive Morgan, but he quickly spilled back into unconsciousness, and they resumed compressions and breaths.

“There was a little bit of a crowd by this point, but I don’t really remember any of that because I was so focused on interacting with Alex and the nurse. In that moment, nothing mattered except the person,” Hawwa said.

Soon after, paramedics arrived and took Morgan to the hospital, where he underwent heart bypass surgery. A few days later, Morra and Hawwa went to visit him in the coronary care unit. 

“We had this moment where he said he wouldn’t be here without us, and all the emotions came flowing out. This is what it was: the real reason (for studying medicine) from the start,” Hawwa said. 

“It’s hard to believe what happened is real. It’s hard to internalize the magnitude of this event and how much it affected both of us. The hours and the hard work do pay off and do make a difference.”

The episode at Loblaws has not gone unnoticed, especially at Queen’s. Hawwa said he and Morra have been touched by all the kudos they have received from their classmates, colleagues and teachers at the university. 

The associate dean of undergraduate medicine, Anthony Sanfilippo, said the pair had an exceptional form of the “magic moment” that many medical students experience at some point during their education.

“Something happens to make them realize that they’re now able to actually personally influence someone’s life for the better,” Sanfilippo said. 

“For most, it’s something relatively modest that perhaps only they are aware of — an accurate and previously unknown diagnosis, a test ordered that led to key information, a minor procedure well executed, the comfort provided to someone in distress. For Alex and Nabil, that moment was quite public and dramatic, but all are significant, provide validation and motivate further learning as can no test result or external accolade.”

ahale@postmedia.com

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