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Donated defibrillator helped save Lincoln teen

During the past four years, Kelsey Neal has gotten her driver's license and donned a light blue dress as maid of honor at her older sister's wedding.
/ Source: The Associated Press

During the past four years, Kelsey Neal has gotten her driver's license and donned a light blue dress as maid of honor at her older sister's wedding.

She's discovered a passion for cooking — inspired by TV chef Rachel Ray — and she's been to any number of concerts by her favorite country artists.

She survived high school chemistry, and she's posed for her senior pictures.

Except that she almost didn't.

Kelsey, a quiet, happy 17-year-old who never goes anywhere without her iPod, nearly didn't make it past 13.

Because on May 5, 2007 — doctors are still unsure why — Kelsey stopped breathing and collapsed on her bedroom floor.

Several things happened in the next minutes that saved her life.

Her parents, in an adjacent family room, heard her fall.

Her dad started CPR. A nearby police officer heard the 911 call and happened to have one of 10 donated defibrillators installed in his cruiser. They shock the heart back into operation. He arrived within minutes, followed quickly by rescue squads.

She spent two weeks in a hospital and will live the rest of her life with an internal cardiac defibrillator implanted under her skin to shock her heart back into rhythm if problems arise again.

In her bedroom, amid the posters and the clothes and the books, a small monitor sits on her dresser collecting information from the device and automatically sending it to Children's Hospital in Omaha every three months. She has an annual heart checkup, and each semester her parents email her teachers to make sure they know what to do if something would happen.

But these are not the things that dominate Kelsey's life. Because she's a teenager and a senior at Lincoln East High School who's taking anatomy and advanced photography and is looking past graduation to college and a possible career in medicine.

She thinks her experience might have something to do with her career interest, especially her pediatrician, Dr. Jeffrey David, who the Neals say has gone out of his way to be available whenever they need him.

"I've been around doctors, definitely a lot," she said.

She may steer her future toward medicine and kids because she loves them, too. She's a regular baby sitter and was there in the hospital waiting room when her niece and nephew were born. Now, she helps her mom watch them during the day while her sister, Kristin, attends the College of Hair Design.

While it's not at the forefront of their lives, her experience won't be forgotten by anyone in the Neal family.

"When you go through something like this, it puts things in perspective," said Kelsey's dad, Brett Neal.

When May 5 rolls around each year, the Neals go out to dinner. And this year, Brett Neal made some phone calls: to the emergency responders who parked 17 vehicles outside their home as they rushed in to help, to the doctors, and to Officer Russ Lashley, who brought the Automatic External Defibrillator he had in his cruiser but had never used.

"We called just to say thanks — and don't ever forget what a wonderful thing you did," Brett Neal said.

Turns out, Kelsey was the first person saved by those AEDs donated to the police and became a poster child of sorts for the consortium of health care providers raising money so AEDs could be bought and mounted in all public buildings and schools.

Three months after her heart stopped, Kelsey attended a ceremony at Northeast High School to recognize those who had helped place 187 AEDs in Lincoln, including 18 in the city's middle and high schools.

She can tell you where the AED is situated at her high school. But she doesn't think about what happened much these days.

Mostly, she's thinking about high school, and the Brad Paisley and Blake Shelton concert she just attended. She's debating life after high school, whether to attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln or move to Arizona to go to college there.

Her mom keeps pictures from her two weeks in Children's Hospital in Omaha, and they undoubtedly will take up a corner of her high school graduation scrapbook.

And she'll likely invite Lashley, the doctors and emergency responders to the party to celebrate that graduation.

Because they will all have played a part in getting her there.


Information from: Lincoln Journal Star,