It’s 10 p.m., and you’ve just finished up at the barn after another scorcher of a day. You’re headed home when you see a car on the side of the road. There’s a man waving his arms, and you can just make out the outline of a human form on the ground next to the car. Do you stop?
If you’re Donna Bottner you do. “All these things go through your mind,” said Bottner. “ ‘I should stop and help; there’s a person laying on the ground.’ But then it’s like, ‘Please don’t have a gun.’ ”
The event rider and organizer from Waldorf, Md., discovered an emergency situation on July 18 when she stopped on the side of southbound U.S. 301 after leaving Glennwood Farm in Upper Marlboro, Md. The man, Wes, had gone to pick up his girlfriend, and minutes after they got on the road near Rosaryville State Park in Rosaryville, Md., she complained of not feeling well before passing out. Wes had his daughter and another woman in the car. That other woman was on the phone to 911 as Wes tried to flag down help.
When Wes told Bottner he didn’t think his girlfriend’s heart was beating, she jumped into action. After more than 20 years in the U.S. Air Force, Bottner had a significant amount of CPR and emergency first aid training. She directed Wes to start chest compressions, while she gave the woman rescue breaths.
The 911 operator counted compressions over speakerphone, and an off-duty EMT stopped as well, offering Bottner a CPR mask.
“We continued until the ambulance got there. It probably wasn’t very long, but it felt like eternity,” said Bottner. “No matter what you practice on a dummy, it’s really hard to ascertain in real life. Can you see their chest rise? Can you see their breath? It’s so much easier on my horse!
“I have a stethoscope and all this first aid stuff in my trailer,” Bottner continued. “I was thinking I should carry more stuff in my car.”
Despite her years of training, Bottner said she’d never performed CPR in a real emergency before.
“You don’t think. You just do it. Your reflexes just take over,” she said. “I can do all kinds of things for my horse, and it doesn’t freak me out. But when you’re working on a human being it’s completely different.
When the ambulance did arrive, medics confirmed that the woman had a pulse and was breathing. They loaded her up and took her to the hospital while Wes followed behind.
“The thing that upset me the most was that he told me he was on the side of the road for 5-10 minutes trying to flag someone down and help him,” said Bottner. “It’s 10 in the D.C. Metro area. This is a busy road. There was something about him that said this guy really needs help. This isn’t some crazy person drunk on the side of the road. If there’s a car accident in this area, people will back up traffic for 5 miles to get a better look. I think it’s sad that nobody would stop and help this guy.”
Bottner organizes the Marlborough Horse Trials (Md.), is the Area II Adult Rider Coordinator and competes at novice and beginner novice in addition to her full-time job at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. While she gave Wes her phone number, she didn’t get contact information for him, so she didn’t know the outcome of the story initially.
However, Wes called Bottner 10 days later to say thank you and to let her know that his girlfriend survived, came home from the hospital, and is doing well.