Victoria Reflects on Witnessing a Sudden Cardiac Arrest
Victoria 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.
After a moment of initial confusion, she quickly realized Kemoy was not moving or breathing. In this interview, Victoria reflects on witnessing Kemoy’s Sudden Cardiac Arrest and how it has left her inspired to help others.
Hear both Victoria and Kemoy share their stories with the Full Audio Interview
Learn what is was like to perform CPR during this emergency from Meggie, A Responder
Victoria’s Full Interview:
Anna Harleen: Victoria, thank you so much for chatting with me today. I can’t wait to hear your story as someone who witnessed a sudden cardiac arrest. To begin, can you tell me about where you were during the men’s 3000 meter race at the 2019 Millrose Games? What was the scene like?
Victoria Kingham: The seating at the Armory is such that, if you’re spectating, you’re elevated above track. You essentially get a bird’s eye view of the entire track. We were sitting in the front row of that elevated portion. So, when Kemoy went down, he was almost directly underneath us and we had a pretty direct line of vision to what happened. We were just watching and Kemoy was the rabbit, which means that he was tasked with pacing the race. He was just leading and the race started out pretty normally.
AH: Then what happened?
VK: It was kind of confusing at first because he was the pacer, and it’s not unusual for the pacer to step off the track at some point. Usually, the rabbit drops out of the race at a predetermined distance or if they feel like they can no longer run the proper pace. So at first, it sort of looked like he had just stepped off the track and then stumbled on some starting blocks. But then it was just a bit strange because he was laying on his side and didn’t really move in the way that somebody who tripped would move around. Given where our seats were, we might have had some of the best views of what was going on. And it became very clear that something was not right.
AH: After it becomes clear that he is unwell, what happened next? How were others reacting?
VK: The whole situation was fairly chaotic because, I think in part, the race was still going on. So the majority of the fans and spectators were still kind of watching the race. It was only those of us who had a pretty clear view, the people in my section of seats, that started screaming for medical attention because it was very clear he was not moving. A couple of officials walked over to him and tried to rouse him. As someone who’s fainted before while racing, it’s not entirely uncommon for runners to collapse. But something was clearly not right. It was pretty surreal because we were elevated above the track. We could see what was happening, but we didn’t have direct access to the track.
A couple of officials radioed in for medical assistance when they realized he wasn’t breathing. And a few folks, including one of my teammates Meggie, who was sitting right next to me, to her immense credit just left her seat and ran down the stairs to the track. She started doing CPR on him while more officials called in for the EMT on site to get the AED.
AH: What was it like seeing that?
VK: As somebody who was watching and horrified at what was going, it honestly felt like they took forever to come over. Although in hindsight, it wasn’t that long because the AED was on the opposite side of the track. I think it was just knowing that this was an urgent life or death situation made everything feel like it was taking forever. When the EMT came over with the AED, it was pretty scary to see the pads getting placed. I’ve been CPR certified three times at this point, and while you practice on those dummies for CPR classes, it’s hard to imagine witnessing this in person.
AH: You’ve mentioned that you’ve been trained in CPR. How did witnessing an actual emergency differ from your training?
VK: I was actually talking to my parents about this a couple of nights ago because it’s been one year since Millrose. One thing that I learned in every CPR class was the importance of taking action and delegating tasks because, when people see an incident with hundreds of people around, they do a quick calculation and think “there’s someone who is more qualified than me who is going to take care of this.” But when everyone is thinking that, nobody takes action. It’s critical to take charge of the situation and delegate things like “you call 911, I’ll do CPR, you get an AED.” I’m hopeful that if I had been closer to the track, I would have felt the immediate impulse to jump in and provide help. But I don’t know that for sure, which really speaks to how scary it is to be in charge of saving someone’s life.
This experience has given me a new appreciation for the importance of taking action. My friend Meggie went down immediately and helped. There was another man who was assisting the NBC broadcast who also did CPR. Neither of these people were the most qualified by any means, but they just unthinkingly went and did what they knew had to be done.
AH: Has witnessing their response impacted you?
VK: I found it super inspiring to witness what they did and it’s definitely made me ready to take action. Like this summer I saw a tourist fall in Central Park and she had a pretty gnarly gash on her head. And there was a moment where I thought, “Gosh, do I want to get involved?” But I did get involved, called 911, and helped her apply pressure to her head. I think that’s a good example of something that I’ve learned from this: it’s always better to help.
AH: Victoria, thank you for taking the time to share your story today. There’s a lot to learn from your experience and reflections.