A key question

DeWayne Bartels

Byron Yang tried to put his key in the locker room door. It would not go in. Yang looked closer and found a key broken off in the lock.

Yang was aggravated. But, not for long.

Today, 15 years later, that broken-off key is at the heart of an unresolved question for Yang about a young man’s close call with death.

Face down

It was 6 p.m. Sept. 19, 1994.

A torrent of curse words left Yang’s mouth as he discovered the broken-off key and headed to the gym door.

That memory raced through Yang’s mind as he sat in on a press conference Wednesday at which every member of the Peoria Fire Department received a T-shirt promoting the use of CPR and a life saved 15 years ago this week.

Yang recalled it like it was yesterday.

He was a Woodruff High School football coach and he needed to get his players in the locker room to watch films of the Richwoods High School football team. The key broken off in the lock forced Yang to head to the gym.  

As soon as Yang stepped into the gym his ears were assaulted by North Peorian Terry Knapp yelling. That was nothing new to Yang’s ears, but Yang found something disturbing about Terry’s tone.

Yang walked toward a very animated Terry. As he got closer he saw a young man on the gym floor.

It was 17-year-old Nick Knapp, Terry’s son.

Stars aligned

Nick was turned over. He gasped. It was the last breath he would breathe on his own for a time.

Yang, a Peoria Fire Department captain, felt for a pulse.

He found none.

Nick was turning gray.

He told Terry to begin breathing for Nick. Yang began chest compressions.

Yang was worried. Nick needed oxygen. He needed a defibrillator.

Yang had neither at his disposal.

Somebody called 911, but Yang knew Rescue 1 would be the responding unit, working out of the Central House in Downtown Peoria. Yang knew it was the busiest unit in the city. And, he knew it did not carry a defibrillator. At that time only AMT ambulances had defibrillators.

Yang feared a long wait lay ahead, and time was not on Nick’s side,

Terry knew the same thing. He was a CPR instructor.

“Everything was just lined up perfectly,” Yang said.

Rescue 1 had just cleared a call. They were in the gym within a minute.

AMT, likewise, had just cleared a call and were at Prospect and Frye, at the top of the hill above Woodruff.

A first shock was given.

No response.

A second chock was administered.

Still no response. Terry and Yang both knew that only 5 percent of people who do not respond to the first shock survive.

A epinephrine injection was delivered and then a third shock. Nick’s pulse came back.

“He began fighting us. That was good,” Yang said.      

Epilogue

Nick stood erect, healthy, as he spoke Wednesday at the Central House press conference at which he and his father passed out T-shirts to firefighters. Nick spoke about the importance of CPR training.

Yang shook his head as he related the story following the press conference.

“Had that key not been broken off in the door I never would have gone in the gym. I don’t know if it was luck or divine intervention,” Yang said.

Nick, now an East Peoria resident and businessman, walked up as Yang spoke.

“Maybe it was a combination of both,” Nick said.

Nick said he really has not thought about it, but, he said he knew one thing. “It’s a great day to be alive.”