(BALLWIN, MO) A high school volleyball coach got the surprise of a lifetime when the men who saved her life surprised her Thursday night (Sept. 27). Ashleigh Nagel and her family got to meet those heroes face-to-face for the first time since that fateful day.
This week, the Blue Jays "Go Red" to celebrate heart health for women and the life of Nagel, Head Volleyball Coach and teacher at Jefferson High School in Festus, whose own life was almost cut short.
Nagel does not remember July 16, the day she was shopping with her two children and collapsed in the parking lot after going into cardiac arrest. Dr. Scott Schuessler and his team at Elite Physical Therapy on Manchester Road in Ballwin saw Nagel go down and rushed to her side.
"I was kneeling down next to her, and I was checking her pulse on her arm, checking her neck, and digging on her sternum trying to get some sort of response from her and nothing happened," said Schuessler.
Schuessler started chest compressions on Nagel while his team took care of her kids. Schuessler has attended ten CPR trainings, but he had never performed CPR on someone in a real-life scenario.
His instincts kicked in, and he would not give up on her. Schuessler performed CPR on Nagel for nearly 18 minutes until a team from Metro West Fire Protection District arrived.
"We saw that she was unconscious," said Capt. Jim Moss. "She was not breathing. She had no heartbeat."
While the paramedics rushed Nagel to the hospital, Schuessler's team contacted her husband, Corey.
Corey said it was touch and go for the next two weeks. Nagel was put into a medically induced coma. During the cardiac arrest, Nagel aspirated and later developed acute respiratory distress syndrome.
Nagel went through physical, speech and occupational therapy.
This week, she began cardiac rehab to start building endurance. She said she fought hard to return home to her family and the things she loves.
"I've missed the volleyball like crazy, the competitiveness of it, and, honestly, I miss the kids."
In a surprise ceremony during a girls volleyball game Thursday night, Nagel and her family were reunited with Schuessler, Moss and the Metro West Fire Protection District firefighters who cared for her: Jeff Gentemann, Stephen Guilford, Lt. Jake Leseure and Jeromy Huskey. The group was treated to dinner in the cafeteria after.
Firefighters from Jefferson R-7 Fire District and paramedics from Joachim-Plattin Emergency Medical Services gave CPR demonstrations on site to emphasize the ease and importance of becoming trained.
Schuessler said he isn't sure how much he actually did to save Nagel's life, but Corey said his wife's cardiologist gave Schuessler high praise for his quick action.
"He said, 'You better go find that guy, and you better thank him like nobody's business because he absolutely, 100 percent saved your wife's life,'" said Corey. "How can you thank that person enough? You can never be grateful enough to that individual."
Nagel, who is also a health and physical education teacher at the high school, said while she lives an active lifestyle, she has a family history of heart disease, and there were warning signs she wishes she would have taken more seriously.
Last year, her blood pressure measured high so her doctor told her to keep an eye on it. The doctor thought she might be experiencing anxiety and Nagel was given a medication to help. Later, she was diagnosed with the flu and complained of tightness in her chest, but that symptom was thought to be pneumonia.
Now on the road to recovery, Nagel is overwhelmed by the support she has received from the community.
"It's very heart touching," she said. "I'm so thankful, so grateful, and it's not just tonight. People have supported from day one: calls, texts, emails, dinners."
The Jefferson High School community is raising money this week that was intended to be given to the Nagel family, but Nagel decided she wants to pay it forward and use that money to establish a scholarship for graduating seniors going into the health field.