Mills County Dispatcher Honored For Helping Save Child's Life

Mills County dispatcher Dawn Christensen.

Dawn Christensen became a 911 dispatcher because she wanted to  make a positive difference in the lives of others - just like the dispatcher who helped save her son Ryan’s life 23 years ago.

“The reason I became a 911 dispatcher is in 2000, my son, who was under 2 years old, had a seizure and stopped breathing. Me, being a very young mom at the time, I didn’t know how to do CPR so I called 911,” Christensen recalled. “The Pott County dispatcher walked me through CPR for my son and kept him breathing until the paramedics got there. I realized that my son would not be here without that 911 dispatcher. My son would not be here without that paramedic bagging him all the way to the hospital. My son wouldn’t be here unless they had the skilled doctors and everyone that took care of him. That started me thinking about emergency services.

“That led me on a journey wanting to help one person the way they helped me.”

Christensen became a Mills County Communications Center dispatcher in 2002 and has taken thousands of emergency calls during her career, but maybe none that hit as close to home as the call she took last December, just three days before Christmas.

It was a call from the Silver City area that was handed downed from the Pottawattamie County Communications Center. It involved a young child that wasn’t breathing and turning blue. Initially, Christensen only heard screaming on the other end of the phone, coming from the terrified parents of the child.

“It took a good minute for the transfer to come down and locate where they were because they were absolutely just screaming and I can completely understand because I’ve gone through a situation like that myself,” Christensen said. “He wasn’t breathing and he was blue. One thought was that he was having a seizure, but he wasn’t trembling, so we just had them lay him down and I asked them to clean out his mouth to see if there was anything in there. Once they kind of did that, he started to breath again.

“He was sick so I don’t know if he had choked on some phlegm or something like that or maybe on something he had eaten. I never found that out. Once they cleaned out his mouth and airway, he started to breath again.”

It took a few minutes for the child to start breathing again after Christensen got on the phone with the couple and got them calmed down. It seemed much longer, however.

“For me, it felt like forever,” Christensen said. “I’m sure for the parents, it felt like forever, too.”

Christensen stayed on the phone with the couple until rescue personnel arrived.

“We needed to make sure this child continued to breath and his color got better,” she said.

The child did recover, thanks to the guidance Christensen provided to the parents. For her professional actions on the call, Christensen was recently presented a Life Saving Award from the Mills County Sheriff’s Office.

Christensen said she’s thankful the situation had a positive outcome and pointed out that the call served as a stark reminder of why she became a dispatcher.

“It feels full circle because I knew exactly what the panic was,” she said. “I couldn’t even remember my own address when I called 911. Thankfully, they were able to locate me.

“It feels full circle for me because I finally feel like I’ve made a difference for one person. That’s all I wanted.”

During her career, Christensen has certainly made a difference for hundreds of people. In fact, in 2017, she was nominated for the Iowa Dispatcher Of The Year Award for her actions in helping save the lives of a father and son who fell through the ice while fishing at Willow Slough

Wildlife and Recreation Area a few days before Christmas. Rescue personnel had difficulty locating the father and son because of their remote location.

“It took us a long time to find them and I stayed on the phone about 45 minutes with them while we tried to locate them,” Christensen recalled. “I kept telling them to walk toward the shore and they kept saying, ‘We can’t go any further, we’re too cold, we can’t do it.’ I kept saying, ‘Listen, I will bring you hot chocolate and warm you up after this,’ we’ve just got to keep going and keep moving.”

The man and his son were eventually located and ended up having to be transported to an Omaha hospital by medical helicopter because they were suffering from hypothermia. It was another positive outcome, thanks in great part to Christensen’s work.

Mills County Communications Director Travis Hitchcock said the recognition Christensen, the senior dispatcher in Mills County, has received is well deserved.

“From what I’ve seen and working on the emergency management side prior to this, I would expect nothing less from Dawn,” he said. “I truly believe she’s incredible and an example of the service those people (in the communications center) provide every day.”

Hitchcock noted that Christensen will be presented a Milestone Of Achievement Award from the national Association Of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) on May 1.

Although she’s appreciative of the awards, Christensen said her true satisfaction comes from helping others.

“I truly am passionate about dispatching,” she said. “It gets in your blood and it gets in your soul. You make a difference for people and that’s all I really wanted when I started my career – to make a difference for one family the way a dispatcher made a difference for me.”


The Opinion-Tribune

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