Peter Schmidt (left), superintendent on Course 3 at Medinah (Ill.) Country Club, receives the “Life Saving Award” from the Bloomingdale (Ill.) Fire Department on May 20, presented by Richard Kurka, the department’s deputy chief. Photos courtesy of Peter Schmidt
Peter Schmidt has already saved one life. He hopes talking about it might help save another.
“For me, the lesson is, get an AED,” says Schmidt, GCSAA Class A superintendent on Course 3 at Medinah (Ill.) Country Club and a 14-year GCSAA member. “I know they’re expensive, but what’s the cost of somebody on staff? It’s totally worth it.”
Of course, it’s one thing to have an automated external defibrillator nearby. It’s quite another to know how to use it, although most AEDs — used to treat sudden cardiac arrest — are designed to be used by laypeople. But there’s a third component, too: In an emergency situation, with all the appropriate tools and training, the question becomes not, “What should you do?” but instead, “What would you do?”
And while Schmidt barely sees himself as a lifesaver, let alone a hero, he’s particularly suited to discuss that third component, even if he’s reluctant to do so. But if recounting the events of Feb. 8, 2021, can help call attention to the importance of AEDs and first-aid training in general ... well, then he’s OK with it.
“Just having the AED, that’s what saved his life. The AED did it. I just followed the procedure,” Schmidt says. “This is difficult for me to step into this. My only goal is to provide more outreach that this is important. Everybody has the opportunity to have an AED.”
Make no mistake: Schmidt saved a life.
That February day, the Medinah maintenance crew was holding a paperwork day for returning staff members hoping to be rehired for the season.
“Like just about everywhere, labor is hard to find. You have to get creative,” Schmidt says. “A lot of our workforce is older, and that comes with complications.”
Schmidt was in another room when a returning maintenance crew member — Greg — walked into the maintenance facility’s reception area, visited briefly with a secretary there, then collapsed.
“He just fell over,” Schmidt says. “One of the other superintendents said, ‘Hey, Peter, Greg just passed out on the ground.’ You never know if your brain and body are going to work together. You don’t know if it’s going to be fight or flight or freeze. The secretary was calling 911. My boss was calling 911. I guess I had enough AED and CPR training, my brain kicked in, and I thought, ‘You know what to do.’ It was very surreal, something I never thought about doing.”
Actually, in a sense, Schmidt had thought about it a lot.
See, back in 2020, another employee had experienced a medical emergency — “It’s been a tough year and a half,” says Steve Cook, CGCS, MG, Medinah’s director of grounds and a 39-year GCSAA member — and the outcome was tragic. The employee reported he wasn’t feeling well and decided to head home. He declined offers of a ride. As he was driving off the property, he suffered a cardiac event, and the car swerved into a lake.
“I had gotten to the scene way later, but I watched the whole thing (aftermath),” Schmidt recalls. “I chose to sit there. So often, whenever there’s any uncomfortable thing in my life, I choose to be a part of it, to be aware of it. I told my wife that there was a seasonal employee there when it happened who jumped in the water and tried to do something about it. I wondered, in that moment, what would I do? When the rubber hits the road, what would you do? Until it hits you in the face, you don’t know what you’d do.”
Schmidt would have no way of knowing that smack to the face would come just a few months later.
“After this, my wife said, ‘Well, you got your answer,’” Schmidt recalls. “I said, ‘What do you mean?’ She said, ‘You told me back then you wondered if you’d jump in the water. You got your answer.’”
From left: Giovanni Lopez, emergency medical services coordinator with the Bloomingdale Fire Department; Lisa Henson, registered nurse, and Dr. Richard Phillips (both from AMITA Health Adventist Medical Center GlenOaks in Glendale Heights, Ill.); Peter Schmidt; Schmidt’s daughter, Kessley; and his wife, Angela. Back row: Steve Cook, CGCS, MG, Medinah Country Club director of grounds; and Mark Gallaudet, Medinah assistant general manager.
Schmidt followed his CPR and AED training — which he’d first received at a previous golf course and has continued to recertify regularly — by the book. “I’d say I probably had the AED on him within a minute or two of him falling,” Schmidt says. “We have it all on video. I’ve watched it. It was surreal to watch. I remember no one was even close to him, but I was doing the ‘All clear’ thing with my arms. I remember the first thing to do is have somebody call 911. There were already people on the phone calling 911, so you just go through the protocol.”
Cook, who has also had CPR training, was one of those on the phone. When he stepped out of his office, “There was Peter,” Cook says. “He had the scissors out, cutting the guy’s clothes off. He was completely nonresponsive. This guy was dead. No question. He was turning blue. And Peter ... it was the most amazing thing. He just took charge. He slapped the AED on, then started doing chest compressions. After what seemed like an eternity, this guy took this huge, deep breath. His eyes opened, and everybody started yelling his name. Then the EMS (emergency medical services) personnel showed up. He was responsive and talking, and they hauled him off to the hospital. It was an amazing thing, like something in the movies.”
Cook followed the ambulance to the hospital. Shaken, Schmidt headed home. “I got home and ran 4 miles on the treadmill,” he says. “Best run I ever had. I thought I had layman’s PTSD over what happened, just trying to process it all.”
Cook visited with Greg’s wife at the hospital, who reported that Greg was bruised but OK.
Cook and Schmidt thought that might be the end of it. But on May 20, Schmidt — reluctantly — attended a ceremony where he was presented the “Life Saving Award” and a certificate of appreciation from the Bloomingdale (Ill.) Fire Department.
“The police nominated him,” Cook says. “The head EMS guy — or it might have been a police sergeant — the last one there, he said, ‘Who’s the guy who did the CPR?’ We said it was Peter. He said, ‘Just letting you know, you saved the guy’s life. This is exactly how it’s supposed to work.’”
Editor’s note: Running off geese, riding the golf course, ringing the alarm on a medical emergency — it’s all in a day’s work for very good boy Cass. Read more in A turf dog’s heroic deed.
Cook says the gathering to recognize Schmidt was fitting. “What was really cool, there were other people there we didn’t know, in the city council room. On the way out, I introduced myself to them. I asked who they were. One said, ‘Oh, I was the attending emergency room physician that night, and this was the head nurse.’ It was well deserved for Peter.”
“He didn’t want to go do it,” Cook says with a laugh. “I said, ‘No, no, no, no, no. You gotta do it.’”
Schmidt, his wife and young daughter attended. Schmidt reckons he might show the plaque to his daughter. Someday.
“I still have it in the box I got it in. I haven’t hung it up. I don’t want to be self-promoting,” he says. “My only goal is to promote that AEDs save lives.”
Andrew Hartsock is GCM’s managing editor.