Departing Walmart assistant manager helps save a life

Several Clarion Walmart employees helped to save the life of Tionesta resident Kathy Mealy (sitting in chair) when she went into cardiac arrest on the store floor on Aug. 1. Those shown here include (back row, left to right) Veronica Slagle, Missey Richey, Deb Bowser, Barb Harriger and Sue Kriebel. Kneeling in front are (from left) Stacey Thompson, Linda Whalen and Terry Bish.

Departing Walmart assistant manager helps save a life

Stacey Thompson lost her husband to a heart attack two years ago; this time the ending is different

By Brett Kriebel

CLARION NEWS Writer

CLARION

The morning of Aug. 1, nothing seemed out of the ordinary according to Clarion Walmart Assistant Manager Stacey Thompson.

"I thought it was going to be a quiet day," Thompson said of the store's environment. "It wasn't busy. It was just kind of quiet."

It wouldn't be long though, before things changed with a heartbeat.

At 9:08 a.m., a code white indicating an accident of some sort went out over Walmart employee radios. Workers rushed to an "alley" between the toys and cosmetics department where an incident was said to have occurred. There, they came upon a woman, collapsed and unconscious on the floor.

Employees Veronica Slagle, Missy Richey, Deb Bowser, Barb Harriger, Sue Kriebel, Linda Whalen and Terry Bish surrounded the woman.

According to Thompson, the group acted as a combined protective shield until help arrived.

Meanwhile, Thompson quickly made her way to the scene, having already called 9-1-1 dispatch. The former EMT explained it was difficult to verbalize what exactly ran through her mind before coming to the woman's side.

"I didn't know what to expect," Thompson said. "Most of the time when you hear code white, someone has just tripped and fell. When you hear they're unconscious, the blood pressure goes up a little bit. I'm thinking about what I could find and how I'm going to respond to that."

Thompson ultimately came upon Kathy Mealy, a Tionesta resident who went to the store to pick up a prescription for her son. Later, Mealy planned to pick up and babysit her granddaughters, as she does on Thursdays and Fridays.

Mealy had been walking through the aisle when she became disoriented, reaching for a nearby counter before collapsing face down.

Mealy's eyes were open, but she was unresponsive to pleas from Thompson to stay with her. Gasping for air, Mealy went into cardiac arrest.

Thompson quickly began cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Mealy while speaking with the 9-1-1 dispatcher via her cell phone.

Soon thereafter, an ambulance arrived, taking Mealy to Clarion Hospital where she was stabilized. Mealy was then flown via medical helicopter to Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh.

Two coronary stents were placed in the artery feeding the back of Mealy's heart. The vessel was said to be 90 percent blocked, with another artery blocked at 60 percent and requiring an additional stent.

Another artery with 40 percent blockage is being treated with medication.

On Aug. 7, during a reunion of sorts, Mealy and Thompson, both graduates of Keystone High School, embraced in the very store Mealy's where life hung by a thread just six days earlier.

Mealy's memories of the nightmarish ordeal are scarce. She has no recollection of any of the events occurring at Walmart or her drive to the store. Still, it's likely she won't forget those who acted to save her life.

"The doctors told us if it was going to happen, that scenario could not have been any better," Mealy explained, noting Thompson's quick decision to start chest compressions and the close proximity of Clarion Hospital as crucial factors in keeping her alive.

Thompson's own experiences in CPR have hit home in the past. Her late husband of 29 years, Thomas James Thompson, passed away as a result of a heart attack suffered on March 5, 2017.

Thompson performed CPR on her husband after finding him unresponsive in their living room, but to no avail. The father of two was already gone.

For Thompson, the act of saving a life through the means of CPR has been what she believes is a godsend.

"You didn't have to have that feeling of having to say goodbye one last time," Thompson told Mealy's son Jared and sister Lisa during the gathering at Walmart. "That kind of helps me to find a little bit of a calm that I couldn't help myself, but I helped you guys."

Sue Kriebel, one of the employees huddled around Mealy before CPR began, said many in the store who found out what had happened were concerned, including a passerby who was the first to notify workers of the fallen Mealy.

"The gentleman and his wife and daughter went into the next aisle and told his family, ‘Let's say a prayer for her.' They got in a circle and said a prayer."

Thompson reiterated Kriebel's point, saying an influx of prayer and support for Mealy was shown as she was being wheeled out of the store.

"That was important," Thompson said. "I know I prayed all day for her, hoping she was going to make it, and she did. So that's just remarkable."

During their morning meeting following the events, Thompson said she expressed to her staff how grateful she was for their roles in saving Mealy.

"It was my hands on your chest giving you life, but it was all of us in the store that helped at that moment," Thompson told Mealy. "We worked together to save your life. This was a combined effort."

Mealy thanked Thompson for her actions, calling her an "angel."

"Without her, my family would have lost me," Mealy said. "I wouldn't have been here anymore. If you guys wouldn't have thought and acted so quickly, (my family) would have been looking at me in a casket over the weekend instead of a hospital bed."

Life goes on for Thompson and Mealy. Now recovering, Mealy joked she felt well physically, other than the pain in her chest from Thompson's compressions. She is tired, but in good spirits.

Thompson's last day happened to be the same day the meeting of the two occurred on Aug. 7.

Thompson has accepted a new job at the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General in Pittsburgh. Appropriately enough, Thompson will work with the bureau of Consumer Protection.

"I guess it's all meant to be," Thompson smiled and said.

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