Salmon Creek couple awarded for lifesaving effort

They sprang into action when neighbor collapsed

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter

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A Salmon Creek couple were honored Tuesday night for springing into action and saving the life of their next-door neighbor.

Rhett Burbank, 40, and his wife Karen, 39, had their family in tow as they accepted their lifesaving award at Fire District 6 headquarters.

They recalled how the morning of Oct. 24 unfolded. Rhett's brother, Joel, was visiting from out of town. He went to the kitchen to wash his hands when he looked out the window and saw a woman on the ground in the backyard next door.

After calling Rhett over, Rhett took charge and told Karen to call 911 while he went next door to Sharon Miller's house. He got inside and found Miller's grandchildren, Maura, 8, and Molly, 3.

"The first thing I said was, 'I'm sorry. I think your grandma is sick. How do I get downstairs?'" Rhett said. Maura pointed to the door that led Rhett outside, where he started performing CPR on Miller based on what he learned in high school: do 30 chest compressions, then give the patient some air. Karen, who was relaying information to Rhett through the 911 dispatcher, told him he was doing it wrong. He needed to do 600 chest compressions fast and hard to keep Sharon's blood pumping.

"Six hundred?" Rhett asked.

"Six hundred!" Karen yelled back from the back porch. Karen continued coaching her husband through the dispatcher's instructions.

"[The dispatcher] said 'tell him he's doing awesome,'" Karen said. "Honey, you're doing awesome."

As he performed the compressions, he started to see Miller, 65, come back to life. Her chest inflated like a balloon and she started breathing again, despite being unconscious, he said.

"The honest feeling is a feeling of panic," Rhett said.

His brother went to the front of the house and flagged down the arriving firefighters and paramedics with District 6. Firefighter/paramedics Mike Swanson and Joe Killian and Firefighter Darren Bush took over the lifesaving efforts, reviving Miller's pulse.

She was transported to PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center's ICU.

'Guardian angels'

Miller doesn't remember anything about the incident. Her daughter, Laurie Banks, spoke with a nurse who told her that they don't typically see patients like her mother because more often than not, they don't make it.

"I have guardian angels in several places," Miller said. "I'm really fortunate."

After spending 36 days in the hospital, she was fitted with an external defibrillator -- a device that restarts the heart in cardiac arrest -- that she has to wear through the end of January. Then, physicians will decide whether she should have an internal defibrillator implanted. She is expected to make a full recovery.

While Banks was visiting her mother in the hospital, the Burbanks looked after her daughters.

"They did emergency baby-sitting, too," Banks said.

"We feel kind of silly because we know anyone would do this," Rhett said after accepting his award. The real reward, they said, is seeing their neighbor calling her dogs and getting her paper in the morning.