Doc: Cook, cop saved man’s life

by nathan oster

Jabs, uppercuts and hooks are the language of his sport of choice, but it is a baseball term that best describes what William Pires did Monday night while working at the Overland Express Mart in Greybull.

Dusty Hill, a physician at South Big Horn Hospital, credits Pires with the “save” of the year for his quick response when a customer collapsed inside the convenience store, lost consciousness and had his heart stop beating.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the customer, whose name is unknown, was still clinging to life in a Billings hospital, according to Dr. Hill. He described the man as “a Native American,” likely a resident of New Mexico, and with the appearance of someone who was “down and out.”

The fact that he even made it to Billings was nothing short of a miracle, Hill said, crediting not only Pires but also the on-duty Greybull police officer, Sean Alquist — who responded to the call and stayed with patient even through his time in the ER — with saving the man’s life.

Pires, an aspiring boxer, is from the East Coast, having spent half his life in the Boston area, the other half in New York.  He has only lived in Wyoming for about a year. Before joining the Overland team a few months ago, he worked as a baker at the Maverik and doing miscellaneous work at the Greybull Motel.

Pires said he was working behind the counter, preparing food for customers, when he noticed the bus arrive.  One of the men from the bus eventually made it over to the store’s food court. It was there, at that moment, that Pires noticed that the man “wasn’t stable.”  In fact, he said a friend who was next in line had to help him place his order.

Pires said he continued to watch the man struggle as he made his way over to the cash register, and then begin walking toward the bathroom. He never made it that far, collapsing a few feet from the men’s room door.

Pires immediately left his station to be at the man’s side. He tended to him while a co-worker at the counter called for an ambulance.  Pires said he later took the phone and spoke directly with dispatch, informing the person on the other end of the man’s condition.

From past experience, Pires recognized that the man was having a seizure. “His arms started shaking…he was foaming at the mouth,” he said.

His initial concern was getting the man to stop.  “He’d been seizuring for about a minute and a half and he was biting his tongue the whole time,” Pires said. “I took one of the rags we use, a clean one, and went to his mouth to try to jar it open and get his tongue back in there.

“After I did that, I turned him over on his side and just stayed there with him.” Pires said he used another stack of towels as a pillow to prop the man’s head up.  The rest of the time, Pires stayed with the man, monitoring his condition and breathing pattern.

At one point, which he estimated to last around 40 seconds, he was unable to detect a pulse.  Pires said he was contemplating CPR when the man’s heartbeat returned.  Pires said all he did to get it restarted was “tapping him on the chest.”

Eventually ambulance crews arrived and took over the scene.  The man was transported to the South Big Horn Hospital emergency room, where Dr. Hill took over.  The man “had no pulse and his pupils weren’t responding to light.” Hill said he immediately feared that he and the ER team wouldn’t be able to bring the man back.

“We were getting no response from his heart,” said Hill. “We did CPR for five to six minutes gave him three rounds of Epernepheren.  I said to everyone around me, ‘This is hopeless,’ and that if everybody was OK with stopping it, I was going to give it one more round.

“I gave one final dose of Epinepheren, we did CPR and checked his pulse again, for about the 10th time, and I got a faint pulse in the right femeral artery.  I felt it again…it was very faint, and very sporadic, but it was there.”

The man’s condition gradually improved, to the point where he could be transported, via LifeFlight, to a hospital in Billings.

“Nobody here could believe it,” said Hill.  “Heck, I couldn’t believe it.  I’ve only seen this happen once in 18 years.”

Hill explained that a pH on the man’s blood was 6.87 upon arrival, and that the chances of making it 12 hours after having a pH that low is “less than 1 percent.”  Yet as of Tuesday afternoon, the man was still fighting in a Billings hospital. “I’ve never pulled one out from that far gone,” Hill said.

Hill said Pires “started the whole thing off” with his heroic actions and by doing “all the right things.” He said Alquist deserves a lot of credit as well, noting that ER personnel put him to work and that he stayed there for a good two-plus hours.  “What he did was awesome, too,” Hill said.

When informed Tuesday afternoon that the man was still alive, Pires pumped his fist.

How did he know what to do?

“I’ve been through a lot,” he said.

Pires said he has a friend with epilepsy and worked with a lot of cognitivite patients while employed by a mental institution as a youth.

“I was trained in how to handle it as a kid … and I guess instinct just kicked in,” he said of his response to the crisis.  He added that his co-workers at Overland also performed well, taking care of customers both in the food court and at the counter, while he was with the man.

Pires said he doesn’t know what the future holds for him.  He admits that he didn’t plan to stay here long and misses his family back East.  But at the same time, Greybull and Wyoming have grown on him.

“I don’t miss having to wear a bulletproof vest or worrying about wearing the wrong colors,” he said. “I’m at peace out here, which is very therapeutic.  I hear birds when I wake up instead of sirens.”

Pires doesn’t know where his boxing career will take him. It’s just something he enjoys.  He’s been fighting in Golden Gloves amateur bouts, and while doesn’t know his record, he’s certain he’s won more than he’s lost.  In fact, he said he hopes to make his pro debut later this year.