Her Father Died Twice. But This Valley Senior Brought Him Back Thanks To CPR Learned At School.
Something didn’t sound right to Brie Salloum while she was getting ready for school one brisk April morning. Weird noises echoed in the upstairs hallway from a room nearby. She compares the sounds to elongated snores, or deep, muffled gurgles.
Brie walked into her parent’s bedroom and noticed her father, Ray, lying in bed and gasping for breath. Salloum’s mother, Lisa, asked what was wrong.
“His teeth were gritted, and he grimaced,” Lisa said of her husband. “I could see we were losing him.”
What happened next, the Salloums recall medical professionals later telling them, was the beginning of “a miracle.”
But First, Get to Know Brie
Brie is a senior at Valley High School who is set to graduate May 26 at Drake University’s Knapp Center with 595 of her peers. She is a quiet, reserved 18-year-old who enjoys video games, hanging out with friends, and working at the Century 20 movie theater at Jordan Creek Town Center.
Salloum puts up with school because “it’s obligatory,” she quips, but admits she enjoys it. She especially admires the advanced placement courses she’s taken throughout her learning experience at Valley: AP Chemistry, AP Physics, AP Psychology—you name it.
Her favorite class, though: the Certified Nursing Assistant course, a full-year program that allows students to earn CNA certification by the end of the school year. It’s led by Andrea Thompson, who Salloum says is her all-time favorite teacher, and is part of the DMACC Career Advantage program for high-school students.
“She makes the classroom calm,” Salloum said. “She’s like a mom to me. I really appreciate her. She’s a phenomenal teacher.”
During the CNA program, students—typically those interested in the medical field—are introduced to a variety of health careers and the makeup for each, like the knowledge, responsibilities, and training needed and required.
One section, Emergency Care, provides students opportunities to learn to provide care during medical emergencies like fractures and burns as well as cardiopulmonary resuscitation, also known as CPR. Salloum and her classmates completed the required training this year and are all CPR certified.
Being certified, she says, is a huge deal. And she would know, especially after her family’s own recent experience.
‘It’s Just a Complete Blur to Me’
There Ray was, lying limp in his bed. Lisa yelled at Brie to dial 911.
Brie was about to, until she saw that her mom was already on the phone. But Brie also observed her mom trying to give her father CPR and realized she wasn’t doing it properly.
She jumped right into action.
“I took the pillow out from under his head, had her move him down a little a bit so his head wouldn’t be on the headboard. Then I just started,” Brie explained. “I was crying and yelling. I was scared that I was doing it wrong and he was just gone. Especially with CPR, you don’t get that instant gratification. It was just scary.”
“When I was on the phone with 911,” Lisa added, “I just kept telling her to keep going.”
Emergency Medical Services (EMS) arrived about three minutes later, Brie remembers. Ray was rushed to a local hospital, where he was in the intensive care unit (ICU) for 10 days.
At the start of his stay, Ray remained in a medically-induced coma and underwent hypothermia treatment in order to preserve the brain activity he had, Lisa said.
Almost 24 hours after doctors had cooled him, Ray had an arrhythmia, which is the improper beating of the heart.
“They had to give him a defibrillator and shock him,” Brie said.
“He had literally died twice,” Lisa added. “Once when EMTs (emergency medical technicians) arrived at home and shocked him after what Brie did, and once at the hospital. His doctor told him, ‘It wasn’t your time to go because you’ve died twice and you’ve come back.’
“They’re calling him a miracle.”
Ray returned home weeks later, on April 28. He continues to recover and rebuild strength while also attempting to find normalcy. Neighbors have helped support the Salloums by bringing over meals.
“A lot of it… it’s just a complete blur to me,” Ray explained. “I’m slowly starting to remember some of it, little by little. All I remember is waking up in the hospital with a couple of my friends being there, and that’s after I had been there a couple of weeks.”
Doctors told the Salloums that Ray’s cardiac incident was a fluke, and chances of it happening again are less than 1 percent.
“Basically, it was all brought on by the flu and pneumonia,” Ray said. “A combination of your body losing fluids and your blood thickening because you lost fluids. Your lungs being congested, putting pressure on the heart. I really don’t know.”
If it weren’t for Brie’s heroic efforts, Ray’s outcome would have been different—even five minutes later. EMTs at the scene and physicians at the hospital complimented her on how she performed CPR.
“She had actually broke two of her dad’s ribs,” Lisa said. “That’s a sign of a good, strong compression in order to keep the blood flowing.”
While explaining, Lisa turned to her daughter and looked directly into her eyes.
“She’s very modest and humble. To me… how many kids give their dad their life?” Lisa asked with tear-filled eyes. “We give our kids life, but she in return gave him life. There are not many people in this world, even those that are in the medical field, who can say that they’ve saved someone’s life.”
How does Ray put this encounter into words?
“I’m grateful. I’m thankful,” he said. “It’s amazing because of the timeline: When she went into the CNA program, when she learned CPR, and when this happened to me. It’s just so all relatively close together.”
On to the ‘Next Page’ of Her Life
Brie will attend the University of Iowa next fall. She’s enrolled as pre-med and is part of the Honors Program. She doesn’t yet know if she wants to become a nurse practitioner who works in the emergency room, or if she wants to be a surgeon.
Brie went to Crossroads Park Elementary, Indian Hills Junior High, Valley Southwoods Freshman High School, and Valley High School. She’s the youngest of four, with three of the Salloums’ children attending the West Des Moines Community Schools (WDMCS).
“We’ve always heard great things about the West Des Moines school district,” Ray said. “We always wanted our kids going there.”
“The quality of life is great and the schools are great here, too,” Lisa added.
Brie is appreciative of the education she received while attending Valley, especially considering its CNA program.
“I’m really grateful it’s part of Valley,” Brie said. “I think it’s a good stepping stone for me to get my feet wet in the medical field. Before I was iffy. Now, I know I want to do this.”
As each second passed on April 2, the discomfort and unnerving pressure Brie faced put her in a difficult spot many will never experience. And despite how traumatic those 180 seconds were until EMS arrived, Brie is a hero.
But she’s anxious to begin that “new page” of her life, and to continue her learning in a career she’s passionate about.
How to Become CPR Certified
Were you inspired by this story and would like to be CPR certified? It’s never too late to start the process!
The City of West Des Moines Emergency Medical Services offers CPR courses from the American Heart Association (AHA). Instructors are paramedics and are certified to teach by the AHA. Course completion cards are valid for two years and are emailed shortly after your class is completed. All classes and testing are conducted at the city’s training center, located at 8055 Mills Civic Parkway, unless other arrangements are made.
About Valley’s CNA Program
Certified Nursing Assistant is a full-year program that allows students to earn a Certified Nursing Assistant certification by the end of the school year. The program supports six DMACC dual-enrolled courses. It covers two consecutive class periods and will meet every day of the week.
Background checks are required before the first day of class. Students must be at least 16 years of age. Physicals, immunization records, and a T.B. test are all required before the first day of clinical.
If students are interested in learning more about the CNA program, please contact your guidance counselor.