In a happy though emotional moment last Thursday, Rebecca Vest personally thanked six MIT Campus Police officers for saving her life.
At an informal ceremony at the President's House, President and Mrs. Vest met with the officers and presented citations to Officers Michael E. Carey, Michael R. DeBenedictis, Mark R. Kelleher, Brent J. Nelson and Kevin M. O'Connor, and Sgt. Janet Popp. Paramedics Chris Wozney and Michael Tracy of the Professional Ambulance Service also received citations.
"You are the people responsible for Becky being here today," President Vest said.
The Campus Police received the call from Dr. Vest for a medical emergency at 3:47am on February 26, a Saturday. Officers Carey and DeBenedictis arrived just minutes later and were joined by Officers Kelleher, O'Connor, Nelson and the paramedics. Sgt. Popp was the patrol supervisor on the scene.
When they arrived, Mrs. Vest was unconscious. "The first thing you do is check your ABCs -- airways, breathing and circulation," said Officer DeBenedictis. The results: airways clear, breathing shallow and pulse slight.
Working in pairs, the officers administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and oxygen. "It's teamwork, like turning a double play," said Officer Kelleher, who played second base and formed the double-play combination with shortstop DeBenedictis on the Suffolk University baseball team during their undergraduate days. They became Suffolk University police officers before joining the MIT Campus Police together.
While the officers were administering CPR, Mrs. Vest suffered cardiac arrest. The paramedics revived her twice with defibrillators.
Mrs. Vest was taken by ambulance to Mt. Auburn Hospital. Over a period of days, she was stabilized and received an implanted defibrillator. She later was treated at Massachusetts General Hospital and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital and is now undergoing therapy as an outpatient. She takes frequent walks around campus with her dog, Scout, and spent Saturday, April 29 on the playing fields, attending the Johnson Games.
"It's great to see the smiles on Dr. and Mrs. Vest's faces," said Officer DeBenedictis, beaming himself. "This can make your whole year. It makes you realize how valuable life really is."
"A lot of times the police are the bearers of bad news," said Officer O'Connor. "It's nice to be recognized. It was an extraordinary effort by everybody involved," he added, noting that Officers Paul Healey and Tayno Hyden played supporting roles during the emergency.
"I'm extra happy for the family," said Officer Kelleher, who joined the department about two years ago and had not been involved in a cardiac arrest case before.
Officer Nelson, a 23-year veteran who has administered to 25-30 such victims, said, "It's great that it ended happily and it's nice to be praised. That reflects on the whole department." Added Officer Carey, "I'm glad things worked out."
The engraved citations from the Executive Committee of the MIT Corporation said: "Your extraordinary actions on February 26, 2000, in responding to the medical emergency regarding Mrs. Rebecca M. Vest made all the difference in her survival and the quality of her recovery. We applaud the professionalism and caring you brought to this crisis and celebrate the outcome of your remarkable service.
"The entire MIT Police Department is proud of these officers' actions in the life saving emergency care provided to MIT's 'first lady,'" said MIT Police Chief Anne P. Glavin. "Our community has come to expect excellence from its police department and excellence has been our hallmark, especially of late. It is a truly uplifting feeling for our officers and indeed the entire department to be able to see and talk with Becky Vest again and know they had something to do with saving her life. Too often our jobs don't have a pleasant outcome and our officers feel the pain of the tragedies in valiant efforts performed in vain. That was not the case with Becky and we are all 10 feet off the ground with happiness and pride in our officers."
After the officers received their citations, Mrs. Vest shook hands with each of them and said thank-you. Then they sampled the brownies she had baked that morning especially for this occasion.
Before departing, Sgt. Popp told Mrs. Vest, "We're so glad you're here." Mrs. Vest replied softly, "Me too."
Later, she said: "I am very grateful for all of the support our family has received from so many people from throughout the Institute community. The good wishes and offers of help have made a tremendous difference to all of us during this difficult time, and they remind me again of what a special place MIT is."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 10, 2000.