Joseph Nicholas “Nick” Charla was ready to celebrate. He and 40 classmates had recently finished their first year at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. They gathered at the Bronx Brewery this past July to mark the occasion and meet each other at their first in-person event since the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020.
“But five minutes in—no one even has a drink yet and people are still walking in—I turn around and see a gentleman on the floor actively having a seizure,” recalled Mr. Charla. “People were confused and staring and not sure what was going on.”
The signs were clear, however, to Mr. Charla, a certified emergency medical technician. The man was foaming at the mouth and in danger of losing consciousness. Mr. Charla told his friends to call 911 and then he immediately sprang into action.
“It was like an auto-pilot mechanism—it kicked in,” said Mr. Charla, referring to his training. “You have to make sure the patient doesn’t bite their tongue if they are convulsing. I listened to make sure he didn’t stop breathing or his heart didn’t stop. I did a sternal rub to make sure he didn’t pass out, and I spoke to him. The brewery workers got me cold towels to put around his neck because he was very warm.”
Michael Cunningham, a logistics manager at the brewery, stayed close to Mr. Charla as the events unfolded.
“Nick was great—he was warm and caring,” said Mr. Cunningham. “It was amazing. I can't think of a better group to have been there that day. If you guys [from Einstein] hadn't been there, it would have been a different scenario.”
After local paramedics arrived, Mr. Charla gave them a report “the way I’d give one to my EMT partner on the scene or to a doctor in the hospital.” The team assessed the man and transferred him to an ambulance. Mr. Charla later learned that the man recovered, and said the head of the brewery thanked him for his quick work at the scene.
“When I learned about the event at the brewery, I was most impressed by the way others said he made the patient feel cared for,” said Allison Ludwig, M.D., associate dean for student affairs and associate professor of medicine at Einstein. “We have many students who come to Einstein with prior EMT experience, but that humanism and compassion is not something that can be taught—it comes from within.”
It was not Mr. Charla’s first time handling an emergency alone. While driving home from his local pool two years ago, he came upon a serious accident on the Hutchinson River Parkway. A man was face down on the median and bleeding badly. Mr. Charla grabbed his trauma bag and put tourniquets on the man’s legs before an ambulance arrived. He later received a commendation from his local ambulance company.
“My mentality is that I’m trained in something—and there’s no reason for me not to use what I’ve been trained to do,” he said.
Growing up in nearby Larchmont, Mr. Charla always felt drawn to a medical career. Following his graduation from Villanova University, he enrolled in a post-baccalaureate program with the ultimate goal of applying to medical school. He also focused on gaining experience as a volunteer with his local ambulance company. Last summer, he worked on an orthopaedic research project for Melinda Sharkey, M.D., associate professor of orthopaedic surgery at Einstein and an orthopaedic surgeon at Montefiore Health System. Mr. Charla said he is excited to “hit the ground running” when clinical rotations begin early next year. In January, he plans to renew his EMS certification.
“The prize for me was receiving an email that said that this person was OK,” said Mr. Charla, recounting the early summer rescue. “That’s the reward—knowing I was there and made sure of that.”
Mr. Cunningham offered a different form of thanks: “He can definitely come back to the brewery,” he said, “and have a beer with us.”
Posted on: Monday, October 25, 2021