Archie Ingersoll, Published December 29 2013
Year of Firsts: NDSU police officer recalls first life he helped to save with CPR
For Chris Potter, it’s often true that his most vivid memories from 20 years of police work have been his first up-close exposures to death.
“I remember the first time I saw a body burned beyond recognition. I remember my first teenager that committed suicide,” the 44-year-old officer said. “Everything in law enforcement, you always remember the firsts, and then after that, everything fades away because the first one etches something in your mind that is there forever.”
An exception to this morbid rule of firsts came Sept. 25, 2012, when Potter was on patrol in downtown Fargo.
He and a fellow North Dakota State University officer had just finished a traffic stop near Gate City Bank when their scanner blurted out a report of someone having a seizure two blocks away at the Avalon Events Center.
As they approached the center, a group of people frantically waved them down.
“Is this where the person’s having a seizure at?” Potter asked.
“Yeah, but she’s not breathing, and they’re doing CPR on her,” the group told him.
It happened that an 18-year-old NDSU student, Adriana Norberg, had gone into cardiac arrest during a swing dance class.
Instantly, Potter recognized that this call was more serious than a seizure. “We gotta go,” he told the officer beside him.
After rushing inside, they encountered a silent room with about 50 people gathered around Norberg as she lay collapsed on the floor.
The sight of the unconscious teen made Potter think of his own daughter who’s about the same age.
“It’s so unusual to deal with a medical emergency like a heart attack with somebody that young,” he said. “It’s just not a feeling you ever get used to.”
Two women who were performing CPR on Norberg stopped and let Potter take over. Right away, he started chest compressions. At the time, the teen was completely unresponsive.
“For all intents and purposes, she was gone. She was dead,” he said. “All we were doing was keeping oxygenated blood circulating through her brain so that she wouldn’t suffer brain injuries.”
Minutes later, medics arrived, and Potter continued with compressions while they set up a breathing apparatus and a defibrillator. In a seamless exchange, Potter moved aside, and the medics took over.
“It was just like a handing of a torch,” he said.
Despite the care Norberg was receiving, she still had no pulse. Potter figured her prospects were grim.
“In my experience, when you end up doing CPR on somebody, generally it doesn’t turn out well because it’s already a very serious situation,” he said.
Nevertheless, the medics took the teen to a hospital, and she kept clinging to life.
Another police officer at the scene told Potter that the young woman was the daughter of Brian Norberg, a sergeant with the Clay County Sheriff’s Department. This hit home for Potter – the fact that he had been working to save the life of the daughter of another law enforcement officer.
“There was just something real purposeful about that,” Potter said. “I would just hope that if my daughter ended up in the same position, that it would be the same way.”
The next day, Potter knew that Adriana Norberg’s heart had restarted, but he needed to know if she was OK. He emailed her father and explained who he was and what he’d done.
Her father responded graciously, and Potter learned that Adriana Norberg, the oldest daughter of nine children, had undergone surgery and received a pacemaker. By the end of the week, she had regained consciousness and was able to talk.
Brian Norberg said his daughter’s collapse was the first time she had shown any symptoms of heart troubles. She spent the months afterward in and out of the hospital, and doctors diagnosed her with a genetic heart defect, he said.
During her recovery, she took online classes at Minnesota State Community and Technical College. And after a round of surgeries in the spring at Mayo Clinic, she was cleared to return to NDSU, something she’ll likely do in the fall, her father said.
“So many things could have gone wrong, anything, and she wouldn’t be here,” he said. “We’re grateful to have her back.”
‘The bottom line’
In October, the F-M Ambulance Service awarded Potter a medal for his efforts. He had the chance to meet Adriana Norberg’s parents, and he hopes someday to meet her.
The joyful outcome was a first for Potter, who had done CPR six or seven times before as a police officer. But in all those cases, the person died. Adriana Norberg was the first one who survived.
Potter says that in his line of work, such true satisfaction is rare.
“It was one of those once-in-a-career moments where everything turns out well, when you have a happy ending,” Potter said. “She’s going to have her health challenges for years, but the bottom line is she’s going to be able to continue in school, and she’s got a greater purpose.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter Archie Ingersoll at (701) 451-5734