- Associated Press - Sunday, May 18, 2014

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (AP) - A trip to the races could have been deadly for East Tennessee State University pharmacy professor Charles Collins if circumstances had been slightly different.

Collins, exiting Bristol Motor Speedway in March with a group of family and friends after a series of rain delays during the Food City 500, collapsed onto the pavement, suffering from a massive heart attack.

He doesn’t remember the events of that day or the previous Saturday, but his son later recounted to him the story of the young woman and man who performed CPR on him and saved his life.

When his heart stopped, Collins‘ son told him he said something that sounded like “Help me” before he fell to the ground.


“I had a backpack on, so I didn’t hit my head when I fell,” Collins said this month, sitting at the back entrance to the Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy. “I suppose at that point, I was having an atrial flutter.”

Lying on the damp pavement, a crowd formed around him as he stopped breathing and lost consciousness. No one nearby seemed to know what to do.

Exiting the gate a few yards away was Kristin Lester. She saw the agitated commotion ahead and the man lying on the ground.

“I thought surely, somebody was already doing something, and as we got closer, I heard a woman say ‘He’s turning blue, he’s not breathing,’ ” Lester said. “That’s when I knew - there was nobody else, it was going to be me that day.”

Lester, coincidentally an ETSU pharmacy student, was trained in emergency medical procedures, a requirement for all students. She had been recertified just a few months prior to the incident at the speedway.

She and a worker at the track, Rob Ferguson, began administering chest compressions and breathing into Collins‘ lungs to keep his brain alive.

“It’s not like it is in the movies,” Lester said. “You expect to get some kind of response, but you don’t.”

After a few short moments of eternity later, emergency medical technicians arrived and resuscitated Collins with a defibrillator. They hurried him off for specialized treatment at nearby Bristol Regional Medical Center.

Doctors kept Collins in an induced coma for several days and treated him with protective hypothermia, lowering his body temperature to reduce the potential for damage to his brain.

The following week, a school administrator announced in Lester’s class that one of the college’s professors had suffered a heart attack during the weekend.

And something clicked in her mind.

Story Continues →