Source: Sherman Publications

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Thanks for heroes
Brandon firefighters save woman’s life after attack

by Susan Bromley

August 21, 2013

From left, Sgt. Gary Shafer, Sylvia Runyon, and Sgt. Billy Starr. Photo by Susan Bromley.
Brandon Twp.- When emergency personnel rush a patient to the hospital, they don't always know the saga's conclusion.

This week, Sgt. Billy Starr and Sgt. Gary Shafer of the Brandon Fire Department learned that thanks to their efforts and those of their colleagues, Sylvia Runyon's story has a happy ending.

The 77-year-old Runyon arrived at Brandon Fire Station #2 Tuesday with a donation for the department, hugs for her heroes, and eternal gratitude.

"You're wonderful and you saved my life," she told Starr and Shafer. "Our English language just does not produce words strong enough... Thank you, thank you, thank you!"

Runyon was preparing for a yard sale at her Oakwood Road home on Aug. 10 when she opened a box that had been stored outside on her porch since late last winter. As she reached inside for an item wrapped in newspaper, a swarm of yellow jackets emerged and began attacking Runyon, stinging her all over. She flailed her arms desperately and ran.

"I only got a few feet around the corner of the house with the yellow jackets still stinging me and clinging to my clothing," she recalled. "Almost immediately, I became very dizzy and my vision was distorted."

Runyon was alone at home and as the left side of her face numbed, her tongue swelled and she found it increasingly difficult to breathe, she tried to think of the best course of action. She pondered briefly if she should drive herself to the hospital or run across the street to a neighbor for help, but discarded both ideas within seconds. Recognizing that she would die without immediate help, she called 9-1-1.

"This beautiful female voice answers on the first ring," remembers Runyon. "I'm attempting to tell her my problem and my speech was getting worse. I heard her say, 'I'm sending someone now.'"

The dispatcher stayed on the line with Runyon while she made her way to the end of her driveway to meet with the BFD staff, who arrived in minutes.

Starr recalled she was in respiratory distress with wheezing indicative of a severe allergic reaction. He gave her a shot in her arm of epinephrine, and began treatment with medication and fluids as her blood pressure was dropping.

"She was swollen like a porcupine," said Shafer, then laughs, "She looks a whole lot better now."

They transported Runyon to Crittenton Hospital, where she learned she had received more than 40 stings. While she notes she has been stung before by bees, she was never allergic.

Brandon Fire Chief David Kwapis said anyone who suffers multiple stings at once needs to call 9-1-1.

"I'm very proud of our staff," he said. "They do a great job and the patient is always number one. This was a life saving event."

"This overwhelming amount of toxin nearly cost me my life," said Runyon. "It was a near-death experience and the nurse at Crittenton told me they (Brandon firefighters) saved my life. I knew in my heart that if I didn't get help, that was the way I was going to leave this world. They literally saved my life. How do I thank somebody for that?"

For Starr and Shafer, just her being there to give them thanks is all they need.