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April 12, 2004

Purdue police, paramedics revive student who'd stopped breathing

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A Purdue University student is recovering from a Thursday (4/8) cardiac operation and hopes to return to class this week, just days after being saved by the sharp eyes and quick first response of two Purdue police officers and Purdue medics.

Paula J. Opheim
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"I remember waking up with tubes down my throat," said Paula J. Opheim, a sophomore prepharmacy major from Indianapolis. "God must have been watching me and wanted me to live. But there are a lot of awesome people, too. The police officers and paramedics were my guardian angels."

Opheim was jogging just before 7 a.m. Monday (4/5) on Tower Drive between Intramural and Beering drives when she collapsed due to heart problem that doctors say could have been fatal. Officer Eric Greenberg saw Opheim fall. By the time he and his partner responded, Opheim had stopped breathing. Officer Kelly Mohundro assisted with CPR until paramedics arrived on the scene. Construction workers who were in the area also came to Opheim's aid.

Paramedics from the Purdue Fire Department used a defibrillator and started an IV to revive Opheim, who was then taken to St. Elizabeth Medical Center.

After the operation to implant an internal cardiac defibrillator, a pacemaker-type device, on Thursday (4/8), Opheim said she didn't remember anything about the morning when she collapsed after leaving her room at Stuart Cooperative.

Opheim's mother, Wanda, said Paula has a congenital heart condition called hypertropic cardiac myopathy, but doctors had cleared her to exercise. Paula's grandfather and great-grandfather both had the condition and died when they didn't receive timely intervention after heart attacks.

Paula's father, Tom, said he was thankful that so many people provided prompt care to his daughter.

"In a situation where breathing has stopped, brain damage starts in three minutes, and death takes five minutes," he said. "We're grateful to the people who took care of Paula – the officers, paramedics, and the doctors and nurses at St. Elizabeth."

Steven R. Dietrich, Purdue Police deputy chief, said the incident shows a side of police work that is often overlooked.

"Sometimes it is lost on students that job No. 1 for us is ensuring their safety," he said. "We are very proud of both these officers and firefighters who assisted Paula. The most gratifying thing for all of us will be seeing her back in the classroom."

The police officers, both of whom who have been on the job less than a year, were modest about their role in saving Opheim.

Greenberg said, "I was glad to be in the right spot at the right time. I appreciate the assistance we received from the construction workers in the area and the good work of the firefighters."

Mohundro said, "I was just doing my job. I was pleased I could help until the ambulance arrived. All of the firefighters did a great job, and I am glad she will be OK."

As for Paula, the support she has received has made a difficult week easier to bear.

"My parents have been here every day, my brother and sister have visited, and I've had support not only from my co-op but also from people in the other co-ops on campus," she said.

Writer: Mike Lillich, (765)494-2077,

Sources: Paula Opheim, (765) 743-8979,

Tom and Wanda Opheim, (317) 845-3474

Steven R. Dietrich, (765) 494-9925,

Eric Greenberg, (765) 494-8221,

Kelly Mohundro, (765) 494-8221

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

Note to Journalists: Paula Opheim was scheduled to be released from St. Elizabeth Medical Center. She plans returning to class this week.

Paula Opheim, a Purdue University sophomore from Indianapolis, is recovering from an operation to install a pacemaker on Thursday (4/8). Purdue patrol officers saw Opheim collapse on Monday (4/5) while jogging on campus. The officers and paramedics from the Purdue Fire Department revived her using CPR and defibrillation, and she was taken by ambulance to St. Elizabeth Medical Center. She is recovering at home in Indianapolis and expects to return to campus and finish her spring semester classes. (News Service photograph/David Umberger)

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