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The Right Place at the Right Time

Heart & Vascular Care
“I knew God put me in the right place, at the right time with the most beautifully orchestrated sequence of events. So I could be given the opportunity to help save this man’s life.”

May 5 started out as a normal day for Alayna Thoennes, a registered nurse with CentraCare Heart & Vascular Center.  She had just finished cardiology outreach in Alexandria with Daniel Tiede, MD, and was looking forward to going home for the day. It was one of the first nice days of the spring season. Her drive home was filled with clear blue skies and sunshine — one of those days that Minnesotans wait for all winter.

“We saw our last patient and packed up our things to head home to St. Cloud,” recalled Thoennes.

Little did she know her timing would mean life or death for an unsuspecting stranger that fate would soon put in her path.

Thoennes was just outside of Avon driving east along I-94 when she noticed a semi-truck in the center median. Even though the scene appeared to be under control, she knew she had to stop.

“My gut told me something was wrong. There wasn’t an ambulance on the scene, so I decided to be sure everyone was safe,” Thoennes said.

She pulled over on the right side of the road. Two women had also pulled over. “They didn’t appear to be in obvious distress. I opened my door and yelled to the ladies, ‘Is everyone OK?’ They told me they had witnessed the semi accident of the man swerving and eventually veering off the road toward the left shoulder into the ditch.” 

One of the women recognized Thoennes’s medical scrubs and asked if she was a nurse. They told her they had already called 911, but there was a man who needed help inside the truck’s cab.

Thoennes immediately got out of her truck. Cars slowed down as she crossed the busy interstate.

The RN could feel her heart pounding in her throat. “I knew he had arrested at the wheel, and I was fearful of what I would see to follow.”

The man was lying motionless on the floor, squished between two semi-truck seats, “He had no pulse or blood flowing to his organs. He was discolored and looked purplish-blue as your body does when it loses oxygen.”

Thoennes confessed that time seemed to be standing still. “I looked over to my left, another man was present in the passenger seat attempting cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). I told him I was a nurse.”

She squeezed around the seats in the sleeper of the cab next to the patient. With the limited space she had, she put her hands on the patient’s chest and started CPR. “At this point, I was in shock by the events unraveling in front of me. This man was lying lifeless under my hands in the middle of a semi-truck.”

In a moment of clarity, Thoennes recalls thinking, “I knew God put me in the right place, at the right time with the most beautifully orchestrated sequence of events. So I could be given the opportunity to help save this man’s life.”

Time started ticking again and Thoennes noticed improved coloring in the man's cheeks and intermittent labored breathing. After roughly 10 minutes alone on the scene, first responders arrived.

Paramedics were able to get the man out of the truck. “As this was occurring, the ambulance arrived on scene and took over. As if it was planned. The teamwork was seamless,” marveled Thoennes.

Her job was done, and it was finally time for her to go home for the evening — not knowing what the man’s future would hold or where he’d be taken for treatment.

Thoennes returned to work the next day still wondering what had happened to the man she helped save. “I had a morning clinic, but I knew I had to visit our Cardiac Intensive Care Unit to see if he was transferred to St. Cloud Hospital.”

As fate would have it, the man was taken to St. Cloud Hospital, “My heart started to race as I walked to his room. I was speechless to see him being treated by our cardiac arrest cooling protocol.”

She stood quietly processing all the events that led to that moment. “I just observed for a few minutes, taking in all the monitors, wires and devices on this man I just saw the evening prior.”

There was another man in the room who Thoennes learned was the patient’s son. “The look on his face, of shock and disbelief at his father’s current condition, was heartbreaking.” 

She introduced herself. “We both talked in disbelief of the situation at hand, and the opportunity that we were able to meet one another. He shared such gratitude for my actions but immense fear and shock of what occurred and what the days ahead would hold for his father’s health.”

The weekend came and went and Thoennes was eager to check on the man’s condition, “I learned the patient had stabilized, the breathing tube had been removed and he was transferred to our Telemetry Unit! I was so excited, yet so nervous, to meet this man.”

It would be the first time that the RN would officially meet Ian Titov, the man whose life she helped save. “He immediately grabbed my hand and held it the entirety of our visit, and I held his back in mine. It was a moment and feeling I will never forget.”

Titov woke up in a hospital bed not sure what had happened to him. “When I woke up … and heard the whole story about the young lady who did everything in her power to save my life, I was crying.”

He remembered, “When I met Alayna, my first impression was she is my angel who appeared to be at the right place at the right time. It seems God sent her to me.”

Titov was discharged on May 10, just five days after the accident.

Thoennes recalled, “I took a minute to reflect on the pure amazement of this moment. The irony is that I’ve been in the health care field for 17 years and never experienced a patient coding or passing — to now performing CPR for the first time and saving a man’s life.”

Titov emphasized, “Because of her, I am here for my family and loved ones. I got a second chance to watch my children and little grandchildren grow up and rejoice in their achievements and success. I can’t thank her enough for what she has done for me.”