Citizen rescuers reunited with Onteora teen whose life they saved

Above: The awards that were given out at the annual awards dinner of the Ulster County EMS Council. Photos by Rich Muellerleile.

Last Friday, Makalia Ouellette, an Onteora High School volleyball player, was reunited with the eight citizen rescuers who saved her life when she went into full cardiac arrest mid-game last October. 

During a volleyball game at Wallkill High School, Ouellette approached her coach, Brittany Alexander, and told her that she felt like she might pass out. A time-out was called just as Ouellette collapsed. She had gone into cardiac arrest.

Nicole Saunders, Brian Vegliando, Julie McLaud, Amanda Murphy, Nick Panieleone, Michael Latino, Stephen Glen Ryther, and Brittany Alexander responded quickly.

They were trained in CPR and an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) use, which allowed them to use the AED to “shock her back to life,” according to Richard W. Muellerleile, the president of the Ulster County Emergency Medical Services Council.

Above: Ouellette, second from left, stands with her rescuers at the awards ceremony. 

On Friday, May 16, the eight coaches and spectators who saved Ouellette's life were awarded “Citizen Lifesaving Awards” from the Ulster County EMS Council, as part of the Council's annual awards dinner honoring certified EMS workers during National EMS Week, May 18-24

Other EMS responders were honored at the dinner in a range of categories from “Life Support Provider(s) of the Year” to Nursing, Leadership and EMS education and communication. Two of the winners also received Regional EMS awards: Victoria Phillip in "EMS Communication Specialist" and Aiden Henn, the "Youth Provider of the Year."  They will now vie for the state level awards in their categories. See the full list of winners below. 

“Realizing the huge link in the chain of survival, we recognized a full group of them,” Muellerleile said. “It was particularly awesome to have the young lady at the event and to see the wonderful friendships forged between some of the coaches and [Ouellette] after all this.”

Along with being an inspiring story of every day heroics and a life saved, Muellerleile said the incident can remind people of the importance of going out and learning life-saving skills and getting their CPR and AED certifications.

“It’s really such an incredible situation,” Muellerleile said. “[Learning the skills] really does make a difference.”

Muellerleile said the awards ceremony serves as a way to give credit to the citizen life-savers and EMS professionals who often remain the unsung heroes of emergency response in a “pre-hospital setting.”

EMS is often the forgotten little brother to the fire and police departments, Muellerleile said. They’re often thought to be “just ambulance drivers” and aren’t given their own informational weeks at schools complete with stickers and coloring books.

“Being a very young service, I think the public doesn’t understand what we [as EMS] do out there,” Muellerleile said. “It’s our mission to educate the public and to explain that in a way that can be understood.”

This year’s Ulster County EMS award winners

Basic Life Support Provider of the Year
Joseph Orr – Mobile Life Support Services

Advanced Life Support Provider of the Year
William Spadafora – Mobile Life Support Services

EMS Agency of the Year
Woodstock Fire District Co. No. 5

Harriet C. Weber EMS Leadership Award
Victor Work – Wallkill Volunteer Ambulance Corps

Youth Provider Of the Year
Aiden Henn – Esopus Volunteer Ambulance Squad

EMS Educator of Excellence
Susan McCarl – Wallkill Volunteer Ambulance Corps

EMS Communication Specialist
Victoria Phillip – Ulster County 911 Communications

Registered Professional Nurse of Excellence
Beth Bagner – HealthAlliance - Kingston Campus

Registered Professional Nurse of Excellence
Heather Laskowski – Ellenville Regional Hospital

Physician Assistant of Excellence
Gene Epstein – Ellenville Regional Hospital

Physician of Excellence Dr. Matthew Morgan –Healthalliance –Kingston Campus

Unit Citation
Wallkill Ambulance – Cardiac Arrest Save

Unit Citation
Esopus Ambulance/ Fire – Cardiac Arrest Save

This year’s Citizen Lifesaving Awards

Lifesaving- Nicole Saunders, Brian Vegliando, Julie McLaud, Amanda Murphy, Nick Panieleone, Michael Latino, Stephen Glen Ryther, and Brittany Alexander
Successful Cardiac arrest save at Wallkill High School

Lifesaving- James Pittman
Successful Cardiac arrest save on Route 9W