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Concord nurse Kristen McGonigle honored for saving fellow runner’s life during road race

  • Concord Hospital ICU nurse Kristen McGonigle <br/>hugs Steve Whitney of Wolfeboro during a surprise ceremony at Concord Hospital;  Monday, October 22, 2012. Last June McGonigle  administered CPR to Whitney in Portsmouth 10k road race until paramedics arrived. Also pictured are McGonigle's father, Jay High, (left) and her grandmother, Helen High (right).<br/><br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

    Concord Hospital ICU nurse Kristen McGonigle
    hugs Steve Whitney of Wolfeboro during a surprise ceremony at Concord Hospital; Monday, October 22, 2012. Last June McGonigle administered CPR to Whitney in Portsmouth 10k road race until paramedics arrived. Also pictured are McGonigle's father, Jay High, (left) and her grandmother, Helen High (right).

    (ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Members of Concord Hospital's Intensive Care Cardiac nursing team applaud as their coworker Kristen McGonigle enters the hospital;  Monday, October 22, 2012. McGonigle was recognized by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen for administering CPR to fellow runner Steve Whitney, last June during a Portsmouth road race until paramedics arrived.<br/><br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

    Members of Concord Hospital's Intensive Care Cardiac nursing team applaud as their coworker Kristen McGonigle enters the hospital; Monday, October 22, 2012. McGonigle was recognized by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen for administering CPR to fellow runner Steve Whitney, last June during a Portsmouth road race until paramedics arrived.

    (ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Concord Hospital ICU nurse Kristen McGonigle <br/>hugs Steve Whitney of Wolfeboro during a surprise ceremony at Concord Hospital;  Monday, October 22, 2012. Last June McGonigle  administered CPR to Whitney in Portsmouth 10k road race until paramedics arrived. Also pictured are McGonigle's father, Jay High, (left) and her grandmother, Helen High (right).<br/><br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)
  • Members of Concord Hospital's Intensive Care Cardiac nursing team applaud as their coworker Kristen McGonigle enters the hospital;  Monday, October 22, 2012. McGonigle was recognized by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen for administering CPR to fellow runner Steve Whitney, last June during a Portsmouth road race until paramedics arrived.<br/><br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

Heart attacks don’t care if it’s Saturday, if it’s your day off or if you just want to run a nice, easy 10K race on a summer day in Portsmouth.

Luckily for 66-year-old Steve Whitney of Wolfeboro, nurses like Concord Hospital’s Kristen McGonigle don’t take days off.

McGonigle was running in Portsmouth’s Market Square Day road race behind Whitney in June when he collapsed. Doubling back, she realized he was having a heart attack and performed life-saving chest compressions for 10 minutes until he was loaded into an ambulance.

Yesterday, in front of a crowd of her fellow nurses, friends, family and notable guests, Whitney gave her a hug and thanked her for saving his life.

“I’m really glad to be here,” he said. “Like, really glad.

“I’m fortunate to have known her. She was there when I needed some pretty critical help.”

Afterward, his partner, Pat Jones, said doctors told her that without McGonigle’s trained and skilled reaction, Whitney wouldn’t have been in town yesterday to smile a bit sheepishly for dozens of photos with McGonigle and her family.

“There’s a difference between CPR and good CPR,” Jones said. “All the doctors said if she hadn’t given him the extent and the intensity of CPR she did, he wouldn’t have made it.”

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen presented McGonigle with a copy of a tribute read into the Congressional Record honoring her actions. McGonigle lives in Concord with her husband, Kirk, and two children.

“The frequent acts of heroism

performed by (nurses) often go unnoticed, but it is impossible to overvalue the work they perform,” the tribute read.

The event yesterday was a surprise for McGonigle, who said she joked before a half-marathon on Sunday that she hoped she wouldn’t have to give anyone CPR on the street again.

As surreal as the situation was, after being a nurse for 16 years, she didn’t think twice about what had to be done that day she saw Whitney collapse, she said.

“You kind of have a gut instinct, and you know that he wasn’t all right. I’m kind of an in-charge person so I just started doing CPR even though I was in awe of it all,” she said. “Even after the EMS guys came, I was kind of yelling and directing everyone around.”

Her ability to stay calm under pressure is what led her to be a cardiac care nurse. When she was younger, she wanted to be a nurse who worked with newborns but found during nursing school she didn’t like that rotation as much as expected.

Instead, she was surprised to find she liked working in the intensive care unit.

“I debated a long time before going into critical care nursing, mostly because I love to talk to people. I’m very social, and I love to talk to my patients, to their families, and you lose that with most patients in the ICU because they are on breathing machines and they don’t talk,” she said. “I think my ability to talk to people and do well in crisis situations, it’s in a new light because it’s about staying calm in the midst of it all and being able to talk to families and letting them know what’s going on.”

She sent a card to Whitney once she found out he had survived and received a letter from his daughter, McGonigle said. She wasn’t sure she’d ever see him again but hoped they’d get in touch and maybe even run the Market Square Day race together in 2013.

McGonigle’s husband, Kirk, was running with her in the road race this year, and though he’s always respected his wife’s work, he said he never really understood until then what she does every day.

“She’s a pretty strong individual, and I’ve always admired her strength,” he said. “But to see her physically save somebody’s life, it’s pretty amazing.”

Their 6-year-old daughter Ally, who wants to be a nurse when she grows up, too, said she knows exactly what her mom does every day: “She helps people.”

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or spalermo@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)

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