New mom was ‘at the right place at the right time’ to save man’s life

If there is such a thing as a guardian angel, Larry Polston’s angel placed Rachel May in just the right place at just the right time to save his life.

Polston, 49, lives at Arnold Tower on Third Street. On the morning of Wednesday, Feb. 24, he was feeling fine and set out walking to his doctor’s office just down the road to pick up some medicine samples.

When he reached Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center, he needed to cross the road and someone in a black pickup truck motioned him to go ahead and cross. Polston said he waved the driver to go on.

The next thing Polston remembers is being in the emergency room “with tons of people around.”

What Polston doesn’t remember is passing out right past Figg Alley in the grass at Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center.

Rachel May happened to be there, too, and she remembers.

Larry Polston and RN Rachel May meet in Polston’s hospital room on Monday. May performed CPR out side of Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center last week which saved his life. Photo by Robin Hart

On Monday, May visited with Polston in his hospital room where he was still attached to a monitor, but he thought he was going to be discharged that afternoon. That’s when she filled him in on more details of what actually happened that morning.

May said she was leaving her doctor’s office that morning following her two-week checkup since having her baby on Feb. 10. The baby had arrived early; his due date was Feb. 24. Her husband — in the same black pickup truck that Polston remembered — was there to pick her up after the appointment.

“I was heading home,” she said, when she saw Polston fall. She jumped out and checked on him, May said. He was incoherent and barely breathing. Not knowing if he could be passed out because of drugs or alcohol, she performed a “sternal rub,” where she made a fist and aggressively rubbed her knuckles over Polston’s sternum. “They’ll wake up to that.”

But he didn’t respond, stopped breathing, and didn’t have a pulse, May said. A passerby stopped to help, and she handed him her cell phone to talk to 911 and she began CPR.

A doctor and nurse ran from the hospital to assist, and an ambulance was there within a few minutes, May recalled.

The next thing Polston remembers is waking up in the emergency room. “They said I wouldn’t have survived,” if someone wasn’t there to perform CPR and call 911.

But May isn’t just someone who knows how to do CPR. She’s an RN at Ephraim McDowell’s ICU unit.

May, who is 32, said she’s helped revive patients inside the hospital with other professionals. “We have a very good team when …. hits the fan.”

RN Rachel May demonstrates how sternal rub is used to test if a patient can wake up. Photo by Robin Hart

But she’s never saved a life outside of the hospital walls.

May said she didn’t know how she would react in an emergency on her own, but now she does. “It kind of just came naturally.” And now her self-confidence is even stronger.

Polston said he knew he had a leaky heart valve and has passed out a couple of times before. But, “I got up and went on.”

He was scheduled with a cardiologist on March 16 to go over options to alleviate his medical problem. But this past Friday the doctors went ahead and placed a stint in his heart, Polston said.

Polston said it was “scary” to come that close to dying. “You don’t know unless you go through it. Now I know. I can’t explain it.”

After their visit, May told Polston, “I’m glad I was at the right place at the right time. Be safe going home.”

Polston answered, “Thank you for being there.”