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Last week the Herald had a brief story about Linda (Harnden) Meeker being selected as an everyday Ozark hero by the American Red Cross. The following account tells about Linda’s experience as it appeared in the December issue of CoxHealth Connection newsletter.
On a Monday afternoon in early November, Linda Meeker was relaxing in her living room when her doorbell rang. As she got up to answer the door, she recognized the bearded gentleman standing on the porch and his silver Ford pickup parked on the street.
“As soon as I saw him, I knew who he was; he grabbed me and gave me a big hug,” Linda says.
The man at the door was Dallas “Doc” Pendergrass and he had come to see his hero. In minutes, Linda and Doc were talking like old friends, even though it was the first time they had spoken to one another. They had crossed paths once before, but only Linda remembered their first meeting. On that day just two weeks earlier Doc had been, for lack of a more delicate term, dead.
Now, he was very much alive, thanks to the quick action taken by Linda and her neighbors when Doc had the most terrifying event of his life, right in the middle of their street.
On the afternoon of October 14, Linda, a nurse in CoxHealth’s Women and Newborn unit, was enjoying the final day of her vacation. Just after the noon news on TV, Linda’s Husband, Chuck, headed out to pick up lunch. He had seen a pickup pulling a trailer pass the house and now, as he backed out of the driveway, he saw the pickup parked in the street. A neighbor was standing at the driver’s door and he flagged Chuck down.
Inside the truck, Doc Pendergrass was slumped over the steering wheel. Chuck opened the door and tried to wake Pendergrass. He was unresponsive and coated with sweat, which made Chuck fear he had had a heart attack.
“I called my wife and said, ‘You need to get out here right now, there’s a guy in trouble,’” he says. “She felt his pulse and said, “This man’s dead.’ It was terrifying, we just saw him drive past our house.”
A neighbor called 911 as Linda and Chuck lifted the driver’s limp, 160-pound frame out onto a blanket they had laid in the street. He didn’t have a pulse and he wasn’t breathing. Linda began CPR.
“I was praying the whole the time,” Linda recalls. “If God wanted this man to live, He needed to do something quickly.”
Linda says it’s difficult to guess how many minutes she spent performing chest compressions. Maybe five that felt like 10. But then, the man regained a weak pulse. And he began gasping for air.
“It was an emotional thing when he took his first breath,” Linda says. “All the time I was praying for God to help me, I remember that so well. It was his decision, not mine, to bring him back.”
Doc hadn’t regained consciousness, but he was breathing and Linda could hear the sirens of an approaching ambulance in the distance.
Doc was at Cox South for six days after the incident. He remembers coming down the Meekers’ street and getting ready to back into a neighbor’s driveway. His memory goes black at that point and the next thing he recalls is waking up in the hospital and desperately wanting to remove the tube in his throat.
“I just remember being scared. I realized something terrible had happened. I had never been in that bad of condition before,” he says. “All I could think of was my kids and my grandsons. It was quite a scary experience.”
His family told him about the nurse who had saved his life, but he didn’t hear the full story until he came to visit Linda and Chuck at their home.
“I’d been wanting to come meet these people,” Doc says. “When she came to the door, I told her, ‘I don’t care how big a boy your husband is, I’ve got to hug you.’”
As Linda and Chuck explained what had happened, Doc says he was amazed by what Linda had done for a man she had never met.
“It was emotional for me, I owe these people my life, literally,” he says. “I thank God for these people. I just can’t say enough.”
During and after his hospitalization, doctors at Cox performed a number of tests to try to understand what had happened to the 63-year-old retired carpenter. So far, a heart attack has been ruled out, but a root cause hasn’t been determined.
Linda says that whatever occurred, she’s just thankful she was in a position to help.
“You just never dream that something like this is going to happen,” she says. Linda has been a nurse at CoxHealth for 36 years and she says her regular training made doing CPR almost automatic.
“You never know when you start doing CPR on a person, especially outside of the hospital, what the outcome is going to be. It‘s amazing that he’s up and out of the hospital and able to come see me. That was a huge reward just to see that.”
Doc says that meeting Linda, Chuck and a few of the neighbors who helped out that day has been a life-changing experience.
“She saved my life and for that I’ll forever be grateful. I can’t praise these people enough for being the kind of people they are and for what they did,” he says. “They’ve really reaffirmed my faith in humanity.”
Last Wednesday, March 30, Linda was recognized by The Greater Ozarks Chapter of the American Red Cross. Linda was selected for the award along with nine other honorees.
This year over 150 individuals were submitted to the American Red Cross as nominees for consideration.