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Geneseo Republic - Geneseo, IL
  • Geneseo duo honored for saving woman's life

  • According to the American Heart Association, Spencer Rusk and Ali Johnson are heroes. Nicole Powell of Geneseo also thinks the pair are pretty heroic.
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  • According to the American Heart Association, Spencer Rusk and Ali Johnson are heroes. Nicole Powell of Geneseo also thinks the pair are pretty heroic.
    A relaxing summer's day on the river almost turned tragic for Powell.
    Freedom Float, an annual event which takes place near the Fourth of July weekend, involves hundreds of participants relaxing and floating in intertubes on the Rock River near Cleveland, Ill.
    "It was my first year participating and it was one for the books," said Powell.
    After being out of town, Powell had driven several hours the morning of Freedom Float to arrive at the event.
    While on the river, Powell said she had a few alcoholic drinks.
    "I remember getting a terrible headache and thinking I had a migraine. I thought I'd just lay down on a float and get a bit of sleep," she explained. "The next thing I remember is Ali working on my chest."
    Witnesses said Powell slipped from her raft and fell in the water.
    "I was in the water less than a minute and didn't have any water in my lungs," said Powell.
    Instead, doctors later told her she'd experienced a "dry drowning."
    Rusk and Johnson, both firefighters with the Geneseo Fire Department, also were participating in Freedom Float that day, though neither knew Powell.
    The pair were on a sandbar when Powell was dragged from the Rock River.
    As first reponders, the duo jumped into action.
    "There were about 250 people crowded around, and I remembered telling people to get away (from Powell)," said Rusk.
    Rusk, who also serves with the Geneseo Ambulance Service as an EMT-basic, started CPR.
    "She was breathless and pulseless," he said.
    While others on the sandbar flagged down a nearby pontoon boat, Rusk and Johnson worked together to try and revive Powell.
    "We lost her pulse three different times on the sandbar, and then another two times by the time we got her on the pontoon," recalled Rusk.
    The pontoon took the group to the Cleveland boat dock where an ambulance was waiting.
    "I'm sure we were only on the pontoon for five minutes, but it seemed more like an hour-and-a-half," said Rusk.
    Though Johnson and Rusk were the ones performing CPR on Powell, the pair said saving her life was a group effort.
    "We couldn't have done it without the people who saw her go into the river and got her out, the ones who helped control the crowd and the ones who helped load her on the pontoon," said Johnson.
    Page 2 of 2 - "At the time, we had no idea (who Powell) was. We knew a first name and that was it," said Johnson.
    Powell said she spent the night in the hospital but was released the next day.
    "They wanted to make sure I was OK, but I was very, very lucky," she said.
    X-rays revealed that Powell had suffered a cracked rib as a result of Johnson and Rusk's CPR efforts but Powell called the damaged rib "no biggie" compared to what could have been.
    "That day, I was exhausted from driving, yet excited to be there. That, combined with the alcohol, left me very dehydrated," she said. "It all just got to me."
    Several days after the incident, Powell reached out on Facebook to thank both Johnson and Rusk.
    "I owe my life to them. I can't express how thankful I am. They saved my life. I have three little girls at home," she said.
    For their actions, Rusk and Johnson's names were submitted to the American Heart Association's Heartsaver Hero Award program.
    The duo were recently recognized as Heartsaver Heroes and were presented with certificates for their actions.
    Though both Rusk and Johnson are trained first responders, neither had needed to use CPR before that day on the river.
    "We worked together as a team, and it helped having someone else there who knew what to do," said Rusk.
    At the moment when they knew Powell was in trouble, Johnson said their training kicked in. "You just think, 'Here we go,'" she said.
    "Some people are scared or hesitant to use CPR, and some say it doesn't work, but it does. It absolutely does," said Rusk.
    And Powell agrees. "It absolutely works," she said.
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