Meggie was sitting in the balcony, spectating the 2019 NYRR Millrose Games, when Olympian Kemoy Campbell collapsed on the track beneath her. His heart had stopped and he was in Sudden Cardiac Arrest.
She ran down the stairs, entered the track, and began performing CPR. Although she’s not a medical professional, her actions as a bystander were critical in saving his life. We had the pleasure of sitting down with Meggie to hear her story and discuss what motivated her to respond to the emergency.
Hear both Meggie and Kemoy share their stories with the Full Audio Interview
Learn what it was like to witness this emergency from Victoria, An Observer
Anna Harleen: Meggie, thank you for taking the time to meet with me today. Before we dive in and discuss your role in responding to a cardiac arrest at the 2019 Millrose Games, could you tell me a little more about the event?
Meggie Sullivan: So the Millrose Games is one of the most exciting and well-attended indoor track meets in the world. It attracts an array of international caliber track athletes to New York City. It used to be held at Madison Square Garden, but was moved to the Armory a couple of years ago. It’s one of my favorite yearly events to go and spectate or compete in.
AH: Can you describe where you were during the men’s 3000 meter race? What was happening, what was the scene like?
MS: I was in the stands, sitting in the balcony overlooking the entire track. I was sitting with my teammate and friend, Victoria. I think it was just the two of us. Anyway, the gun went off and I kind of remember just loosely watching. I was actually considering going and getting a glass of wine. And then I thought, “Well I’ll watch this. There are some interesting people who are racing.” About halfway through the race, I remember Victoria saying “Oh no!” and the crowd sort of gasping. I looked down and saw someone on the ground who was incredibly unresponsive.
AH: What happened next? How was the crowd responding? Was it clear that he was unwell?
MS: It was a bit confusing, until one person kind of rolled him over and then I realized his arms and neck were completely limp. That’s when I started getting pretty concerned from my point of view. Because we were sitting in this balcony, we actually had a great vantage point.
The crowd was definitely confused and then I started hearing people saying things like “Hey, this is not okay.” It took a couple minutes for people to start turning that into rage. But what I remember most was Victoria’s face and her saying to me, “His chest isn’t moving.” I quickly looked at his chest and when you’re running it’s very apparent that you’re breathing. Your chest is going up and down somewhat dramatically. But his was absolutely still.
At this point, I think it had been about two or three minutes since he had fallen and there wasn’t any medical attention at his side. I just remember outrageously yelling, “This man needs help” to anyone who could hear. It felt as though this man, who had hundreds of people surrounding him, was completely alone and helpless. It drove me insane. To the point where I looked at Victoria and said, “He needs oxygen, he’s going to go brain-dead if he doesn’t get oxygen.” So I ran down the stairs and ran past this point where I apparently didn’t have access. I remember a security guard telling me I couldn’t enter the track and I think I might have said some expletive. I remember saying “This man’s going to die if we don’t give him CPR, he needs CPR, he needs CPR.” I just ran onto the infield and put my ear to his chest. There was absolutely no heartbeat, that was what stuck out the most.
So I started giving him CPR. The last time I took a CPR class was six or seven years prior. And I remember in taking CPR classes they told us that, when you do compressions, you’re most likely going to break their ribs and that’s okay. I still remember being kind of afraid and that I didn’t want to hurt him. But I focused and was like, “Here I go, I’m going to give this man CPR and mouth-to-mouth breathing.” I was shaking but at the same time hoping that he could just take all of my oxygen. I thought to myself, “Please, take whatever I have in order to survive.”
It was definitely a harrowing experience, but also super powerful. I remember somebody, a voice saying it’s okay and that the medical team is here. And I thought, “Great, somebody who is a professional can help. I’m not that. Let me just step out of the way and they can administer their professional expertise.”
Long story short, he’s alive, which is great. It was definitely one of the more dramatic things I’ve been through in my life, but also special in the sense that I’m pretty close with Kemoy and his fiance Rachel.
AH: Wow, Meggie, that’s incredible. What motivated you to respond to this emergency? You mentioned that you did CPR training years ago and that you’re not a professional. Given those limitations, what drove you to take action?
MS: Yeah, that’s a really good question. I think what drove me is a belief that, if I have the agency and the power to help somebody, why not? There frankly weren’t many thoughts going through my head other than a real sense of anger and frustration. I was looking around and thinking, “Okay, somebody’s going to pop up, there are over 500 people here, someone with a defibrillator or some instrument is going to rush in and do something.” Not seeing that was infuriating and scary. And then I just thought, “I’m not going to stand here and watch somebody die. I will never be able to live with myself. I’m just not going to watch that. That’s not going to happen in my lifetime.”
I also thought that this man here is somebody’s son, somebody’s brother, somebody’s future fiance. I would just like to do whatever’s in my power to keep him going. There was never any doubt. I mostly was thinking that, hopefully, by the time I get to his side, somebody else is there. But there wasn’t anyone, so I just kept going. Then I crossed the track and thought, “Okay I guess I’m doing this, I guess I got here first.”
From what I understand from other bystanders was that, once I started doing CPR, people really snapped into action. So I’m glad I was a sort of trigger for people to see and then galvanize behind in efforts in saving his life.
AH: Absolutely. Taking that first step can inspire others to also take action. Well, those are all the questions that I have. Are there any other thoughts you’d like to share?
MS: Life is super precious. And it’s so important to make any scientific or technological advancements like defibrillators more accessible and readily available. Time is seriously, seriously of the essence when cardiac arrest happens. So getting AEDs to people quickly is critical. I also just hope that this story can help promote action from ordinary people.
AH: Meggie, thank you so much for chatting with me and telling your story. It’s really been a pleasure.
How to Save A Life from Sudden Cardiac Arrest
You can save a life from Sudden Cardiac Arrest by immediately doing three simple things: call 911, perform Hands-Only CPR, and use an AED. We have created a guide that teaches you how to CALL-PUSH-SHOCK and save a life, take a look!