On the scene, saving a life

A McLaren Oakland anesthesiologist found himself in the right place when he was absolutely needed.

Even Dr. Michael Owens acknowledges the eeriness of the series of events that brought him to that street corner early one morning in late July.

He’s thankful, though, that he was driving by that corner at that time of day — because it saved a life.

“It’s weird to think that all of this could have been happening less than 100 yards away,” Dr. Owens said, “and I would have had no idea.”

A matter of timing

The start to the day was already out of the ordinary for Dr. Owens.

Working primarily out of McLaren Oakland in Pontiac, it was very unusual for the anesthesiologist to be called into a surgical case at another facility.

“It was my first time working offsite in more than a decade,” he said.

The case itself was pretty straightforward: A young woman was getting a minor back procedure.

The case never happened, though, yet remained very memorable.

Not only did Dr. Owens find himself in unfamiliar setting far outside of his ordinary routine, but his case was cancelled because the patient was pregnant. This was news to everyone, including the patient.

“I arrived at 6 a.m.,” Dr. Owens said. “At 7 a.m. it was determined she was pregnant. By 7:15, I was out on the road.”

Stopped at the first light he rolled up to, he saw it — a horrific single-car accident. Bystanders were already gathering around the car that hit with such force that it wrapped around a pole.

Quickly getting out of his car, he took control of the scene — making his way to the driver, a young woman, he rushed to assess her condition and get her out of the car.

“As I looked at her, she took her last breath,” he said.

Moving fast and with purpose, Dr. Owens took the seat belt off and laid her flat on the ground.

She had no pulse.

Often traveling with an airway toolkit, he didn’t have it then. He would have to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Still with a small but growing group of bystanders, he taught one of them how to perform chest compressions while he did mouth-to-mouth.

“There was no pulse the whole time, but we kept working.

“It felt like solid work,” he said, “we got the airway in a good position, I could see her chest expand. I was thinking I want to get her to ambulance so they could start working on her.”

For more than 15 minutes, Dr. Owens and the conscripted bystander continued their work until the ambulance arrived.


“I prepped for the worst-case scenario,” Dr. Owens said.

Performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation causes anyone to pause afterward with concern, but even more so during this time when everyone is very conscious of social distancing and passing pathogens to one another.

At the scene, though, with this woman clinging to life, there wasn’t time to spare.

Thankfully, though, after going home to thoroughly disinfect his mouth, he was able to call the facility where the patient was transported and speak with the hospital’s medical leadership, who confirmed to Dr. Owens that she was negative for COVID-19 and other communicable diseases.

They also confirmed to him that she was awake and alert in the hospital’s ICU.

This was the latest in the series of fortunate turns that results with this very positive — if unexpected — outcome.

“It was very rare to have a case cancelled for that reason,” he said, referring to his pregnant surgery patient. “The timing was odd.”