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One of Our Own

Published March 2024 | In Spring 2024

There is never a good time or place to have a life-threatening medical emergency, but Danny Morris is thankful help was nearby when he needed it.

One of Our Own Media

It was just another day at work for Danny Morris.

The Monument Health valet supervisor was at his usual place near the entrance to Rapid City Hospital, greeting people and talking baseball with his coworkers.

Little did Danny know, a blood clot that started in his leg was moving into his lungs. One moment he was running down the Chicago Cubs batting order, the next he was unable to speak and began struggling to breathe. When he hit the floor, he was in cardiac arrest; suddenly fighting for life in the very same spot he’d been working for the last 24 years.

“All of a sudden, I couldn’t answer them when they asked if I was OK,” Danny said. “I woke up in the ICU a few days later.”

Gary Dowling and Dale Johnson, fellow valets, immediately called for rapid response. Heart and Vascular Unit nurses Cori Johnson, RN, and Amy Farley, RN, were only a flight of stairs away and headed straight for the scene. They began lifesaving measures within seconds of hearing the call. Cori and Amy took turns giving Danny chest compressions and instructed Gary and Dale to call for a code blue. The code blue team quickly arrived and Danny, still unresponsive, was loaded onto a cart.

At that point, Amy climbed onto the cart with Danny and rode with him, administering CPR as they were wheeled to the emergency department. Treatment continued in the ED until Danny resumed breathing and was eventually stabilized.

“I have responded to more codes than I can count over the years, but this one had an impact on me,” Amy said. “I think since it was a colleague — one of our own — it has stuck with me over the last year and probably will for the rest of my life.”

The close proximity to care when it mattered most was a factor in Danny’s case, Cori said.

“I knew Danny had an excellent chance of full recovery because CPR began when he became unresponsive and lost his pulse,” she said. “It does feel more personal when you know the person you are helping. This has happened to me several times over the years both at work and in the community. The first time I saw Danny when he returned, I shook his hand and told him how glad I was to see him and told him Amy and I had been praying for him ever since.”

What is a code blue?

A code blue hospital announcement means that an adult is having a medical emergency, usually cardiac or respiratory arrest. Every hospital has its own policy for code blue events. Cori Johnson, Nurse Manager at HVU, said “I have been a nurse here for almost 33 years, so I have responded to hundreds of code blues over the years. Each one is different, but the feeling of urgency and desire to help the person with all you have is the same.”

From the ED, Danny was sent to the Intensive Care Unit for several days where he was on a ventilator. Danny's wife, Deb, and daughter, Brittany Pruess, were by his side for support. He was treated by Cardiologist Saverio Barbara, M.D., Samantha Speed, DNP, and others at Monument Health Heart and Vascular Institute.

Five weeks after nearly losing his life in the middle of his shift, Danny walked back into the valet office and resumed work.

“I’ve always said I like working here, and I do. That’s why I’ve been here so long; I enjoy it, and I’ve always thought of my teammates as a family,” Danny said. “Well, they truly are my family now, because I owe them everything.”

It’s been a year since his incident, and Danny has been doing what he always has: parking cars and helping patients and visitors. He’s seen the arrival of a new grandson, Nehemiah James Pruess. The Cubs are entering spring training, and the guys are starting to talk baseball again. Dr. Barbera gave him an implantable cardioverter- defibrillator, a small battery powered device placed in the chest. It detects and stops irregular heartbeats, just in case something like this should happen again.

“I feel good,” Danny said. “I’ve been treated so well by everyone here at Monument Health, from the ED to ICU to HVI; all the doctors and nurses and everyone else. Gary and Dale helped me on the spot, and then our whole team stepped up and filled in while I was gone. Everyone just takes these things as part of the job around here, but for me, it’s a lot more than that. It means so much, and I just want to thank everyone who helped me.”

Danny’s role as valet supervisor puts him in constant contact with Monument Health’s patients. Often, the first Monument Health caregiver a patient or visitor sees when they arrive at Rapid City Hospital is one of the valets. On an average month, the valet services team parks and retrieves 2,800 vehicles and helps more than 2,100 patients — including wheelchair assistance when required. Danny said the entire valet team takes pride in making arrival and departure less challenging for patients.

“They truly are my family now, because I owe them everything.”

-Danny Morris

“The goal is to make patients and visitors feel like VIPs,” Danny said. “Our team is committed to providing positive experiences.”

He still thinks about that “scary and remarkable” day each morning when he arrives at the hospital. “It’s not to be forgotten,” he said. “It’s to be acknowledged, so that the healing can foster a grateful outlook.” Danny has been well known around the hospital, but he’s now earned a new nickname from those who know his story: some call him Miracle Man.

“It could have happened anywhere. The Big Guy, he put me in the right place with the right people. You truly know who’s beside you when something like this happens.”

Story and Photos by Bob Slocum

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