From left to right in back are current and former members of the UF College of Veterinary Medicine’s Small Animal Hospital emergency and critical care team: Dr. Ashley Allen-Durrance, Dr. Jennifer Martinez,  resident Dr. Diana Carter, Dr. Taylor Curley and former resident Dr. Lauren Brachii, shown before the Key West Half Marathon on Jan. 14. In front are Nora Martinez and Adeline Durrance, daughters of Drs. Martinez and Allen-Durrance, respectively.

By Sarah Carey

When Dr. Taylor Curley, chief resident with the emergency and critical care team at the University of Florida Small Animal Hospital, accompanied four of her critical care colleagues on a trip to participate in the annual Key West Half Marathon and 5K race in mid-January, the last thing she expected was to be frantically performing life-saving measures on a fellow runner.

Curley had dropped back from her teammates to take a bathroom break, but soon after resumed running around the 12-mile mark when she saw a man ahead of her, 57-year-old Mike Raymond of Pennsylvania, wobble and go down, having a seizure.

“I asked people around me to call for medical help, and about one minute into his seizure, he took a really deep breath and he turned pale,” Curley said. “It kind of looked like he had left his body. He was grey and his pupils were fixed. I just knew he had died.”

Curley immediately began performing CPR, assisted by race volunteer Kathryn Nass, a retired emergency nurse, and they yelled for a bystander to retrieve an automated external defibrillator, or AED, from a nearby cruise ship. Eventually, emergency physician Dr. Ann Giovanni, who works in Miami, also stopped to help.

“It took a while,” Curley said. “We defibrillated him once and after around eight or nine minutes, EMS arrived and took him away. At that point, he had a heart beat again.”

“I’ve been an ER doctor for 12 years, and they had it under control,” said Giovanni. “Taylor was doing an amazing job. I just started screaming for someone to get an AED. A guy nearby said there was one on the boat, and ran to get it. He came back with the defibrillator and they shocked him with it and got a pulse back.”

It was Raymond’s “dream race” and on his bucket list, though he has a family history of heart disease. A race photo had captured him smiling and looking great just one mile before he collapsed.

“The last thing I remember is that I took a picture of the cruise ship at Mile 12. Right after that, I went down. I had no symptoms whatsoever,” said Raymond, who has since undergone major heart bypass surgery and is now recovering at home in Pennsylvania.

“Two days after that Sunday morning, I woke up at Mount Sinai with tubes all in me,” he added. “I’ve done 28 half-marathons and eight full marathons, but this was my dream race and on my bucket list.”

Raymond’s wife, Lorena, was at the finish line waiting for him when she looked at her phone’s location-tracking “Life360” app and noticed he wasn’t moving. She waited three minutes and he still wasn’t moving, so she called his phone and a police officer answered.

“He told her, ‘all I can say is that your husband collapsed,’” Raymond said. “He asked her where she was and what she was wearing. When they finally found each other, the officer told Raymond’s wife that he had been on his way to tell her that her husband had passed away. But a few minutes later, he found out that I’d been taken to the hospital so he told her to find me there.”

Both Curley and Giovanni were grateful to have been there to help save Raymond’s life that day. As Curley said, “you really can save someone” with quick action.

“It was a great outcome that we don’t see often,” Giovanni said. “The stars aligned that day for Mike in regards to who was in close proximity. It also highlights the importance of knowing CPR.”

Raymond made a point of connecting with all of the people involved in helping him, and hopes to reunite with Curley and Giovanni to run together again in Key West at a future race. Ironically, before the race began, Curley had joined her mentors, Drs. Ashley Allen-Durrance and Jennifer Martinez, along with current ECC resident Dr. Diana Carter and former ECC resident Dr. Lauren Brachii, for a group photo in which they were all wearing white and black team T-shirts with the message, “Please Resuscitate.”

Barbara Wright, founder and director of the Key West Half Marathon, said a similar situation happened at the race about seven years ago when a runner went down after a heart attack and his life was saved, thanks to quick-thinking, fast-acting and medically trained fellow runners who rushed to assist.

“Both of these men were lucky enough to have these events happen at the right time and in the right place to be able to survive,” Wright said “After what happened in that first situation, we started offering discounts to anyone who is CPR-trained. We plan to do this in the future as well.”

She was impressed with Curley’s role and how she handled the situation.

“I didn’t even know veterinarians did CPR on animals,” Wright said.

“In this situation, there were really good people in the world that decided to take care of each other when we didn’t have to do any of that,” Curley reflected. “I’ll quote Dr. Allen, my mentor, who says, ‘It’s better to choose to be a good human than to wish that you had done something.’ I think we all need to make a conscious decision to be a good human and a better human, and that would make the world a better place.”

Allen said she was not surprised by Curley’s selfless decision to use her critical care training and act quickly to help her fellow runner.

“She has a huge heart and infectious optimism,” Allen said. “I hope her story empowers others to take action when facing similar situations.”