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It wasn't just any Sunday morning when Emory hospitalist Twanna Woodson reached out to save David Scobey's life.
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David Scobey and Twanna Woodson
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It wasn't just any Sunday morning when Emory hospitalist Twanna Woodson reached out to save David Scobey's life.

  Reach out and touch someone
By Perky Daniel

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For this AT&T executive, the slogan has new meaning.

Pain jolted his chest, then radiated sharply down his left arm. He turned to his brother-in-law and said, "I need to get to the hospital. I think I'm having a heart attack."
They headed toward the church door. He’d attended the early worship service and had committed to teach a Sunday School class. Groups of congregants stood in the halls, chatting and catching up on each other’s news. As he walked further, his head began to spin. Turning right toward a sofa, he exclaimed, “I’m not going to make it.” With those words, David Scobey Jr., at the time president and CEO of AT&T Southeast, collapsed. His brother-in-law eased him onto the sofa, grabbed a cell phone, and called 911.
     A few minutes earlier after attending early service, Olivia Comer and her husband had decided to take their infant son home because he was feeling unwell. Standing a few feet from the door, Comer caught a glimpse of Scobey and knew something was wrong. He looked pale, bluish, and short of breath. “He’s dying,” thought the pediatric oncology nurse. As Scobey went down, Comer rushed to his side, calling for someone to find a physician fast.
     At her shout, runners dispersed to classes to find a doctor and to ask for prayers. Recognizing that their church, North Atlanta Church of Christ, has a number of entrances and sits back from the street, several parishioners went to the parking lot to guide the ambulance to the entrance where Scobey lay unresponsive.
     Twanna Woodson, an Emory physician and hospitalist at Emory Eastside, also had worshipped early. She had planned to skip Sunday School to get together with family she hadn’t seen in a while. She stopped to visit with friends, then walked toward her car, keys and phone in hand. But just as she turned to open the car door, an internal voice urged her, “Go back inside, go to Sunday School.” She even argued back: “I have no intention of going back in. I don’t even know which class to go to. We’re in the middle of a session. Class has started. I’ll be late.” Again, that still, small voice prompted her to go back inside. Woodson thought to herself that she must really need to hear this morning’s lesson.
     It was, after all, early December, Advent on the Christian calendar, a season of acknowledging human frailty and responding with hope. Advent offers assurance of the strength of love’s saving grace. In those shortest days of winter, many faiths celebrate light, light that reliably penetrates darkness. Culturally, the holiday season holds the prospect of the good gifts of joy and togetherness.
     So Woodson put her keys and phone away, returned to the building, and found a large, mixed-age class. She began listening to the preliminaries and prayer requests when the classroom door opened. “Is there a doctor in here? Anyone in the health care profession?” a man asked. In that instant, Woodson knew why she was supposed to come back inside. She followed the man down the hall to where Scobey sat.
     His brother-in-law was on the phone directing the ambulance to the church. Others stood nearby, praying. Scobey’s wife and parents had been brought to his side. Someone went to get his mother a chair and a cup of water. Woodson recognized Scobey as someone who, with his family, sat near her in church. In fact, she’d just seen him walk past her a few minutes earlier, and he’d looked fine, then.
     Now Scobey was lethargic, in and out of consciousness. “Are you okay?” Woodson asked. “No . . . hot,” Scobey said. “Just hot. Chest hurts.” Then Scobey passed out. His heart stopped. Several men gently transferred him from the sofa to the floor. Woodson began chest compressions. Comer leaned in to start mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
     With the 15th compression, Scobey came to and tried to push Woodson’s hand away. It was a good sign. Someone appeared with a defibrillator. Just as it was attached, the ambulance arrived, and paramedics loaded Scobey on a stretcher and took off.
     Sixteen minutes had elapsed from the time Scobey passed out. He was rushed to the emergency room, diagnosed with complete blockage in the left anterior descending artery, and taken immediately to surgery to repair his heart. The condition is grimly known as “the widow maker.”
     Later when Scobey was back in a hospital room with his wife, parents, sister, and brother-in-law, the surgeon described the problem and the repair. When the family thanked the surgeon for saving Scobey’s life, he said, “No, I fixed his heart for the future. The people that worked on him at your church saved his life.”
     Listening and responding to that still, small voice, being willing to set aside personal plans to answer to an immediate need, and applying precise medical skills makes all the difference.
     That’s Emory, in the community, reaching out, touching lives.

Perky Daniel, a retired Presbyterian minister, is a freelance writer based in Decatur, Georgia.

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