Walter was very involved in the community, a well respected man. Constantly on the road traveling a lot making time for what filled his heart most; the Green dale Lions Club, Boy Scout events, and family weekends every chance he could. With 4 daughters and a beautiful wife, Walter was certainly outnumbered in a house of girls. Community time with the Boy Scouts and Lions Club was Walters way of having some fun with the boys, ever so often bringing his daughters along when able to. His girls eventually were following his footsteps with the outgoing, friendly, loving spirit their dad showed as he spoke and worked kindly with others. A family- community- hard working- man best described Walter; taking pride in all he did and embracing all the people around him.
|Walters wife & daughters|
As he walked in a Lions Club meeting one day, he spoke with a friend briefly as they both walked to their seats together. Suddenly, the friend Walter had just exchanged greetings with fell to the floor and collapsed. Walter stood their stunned as well as many others, not knowing what to do or how to respond. Before they could blink another moment, another gentleman came out of nowhere. Walter says, “I can’t remember if he jumped over the table, under the table, or maybe flew right through it! But this man came out of nowhere and began pushing our friends chest hard and fast.” The ambulance finally arrived in what seemed like forever to Walter and his friend was taken to the hospital. They all followed and met one another in the waiting room, that is when they realized the man that came out of nowhere, was not only a Lions Club Member but also a paramedic, who took immediate action giving their friend CPR. Days went by before they knew if his friend would wake up living the same life he had before that day he collapsed, depending how long this man went without oxygen once his heart stopped. This man walked out of the hospital days later, walking and talking to share his story of how CPR saved his life.
The Lions Club took action following the incident, Walter made sure of it, and offered CPR classes to their community sharing their story of how CPR saved a members life. The paramedic that saved Walters friend was now the CPR Class Instructor. Everyone felt the need to make sure they knew what to do if a situation like this ever happened again. Walter brought his youngest daughter, Jen, to the CPR classes being offered. Together, they helped host, organize, prepare, and greet people coming to the classes. They also took the time to learn this life saving skill together.
“Don’t breathe too hard into Annie, You’ll blow her away!” The class laughed as the instructor told Walter to breathe gently into the “Annie” Manikin as they practiced the 2 breaths and 30 compressions together. Walter was a big guy and just couldn’t help his strength! Maybe it was his determination when reliving that day his friend collapsed and now knowing what to do...2 strong breaths, 30 compressions… 2/ 30, 2/30, pushing hard and fast into the practicing manikin. Walter felt helpless when his friend collapsed into cardiac arrest. He wanted to make sure he never felt that way again. He wanted to be prepared and know what to do; if and when something like that ever happened again and he knew others needed to know it too.
A year went by and life went on for Walter and his family. Jen had started not feeling very well and a couple doctor visits left her with no answers as to why. She was very involved at school and especially during her senior year with all the excitement of wrapping up different clubs and projects needed. Maybe too much going on all at once and a little anxiety was creeping in? No medical answers were found. Walter was home for the weekend getting things ready to head back to his regular weekly travels on Monday.
May 15, 1983 Jen walked into the kitchen and motioned to her dad that she was having a hard time breathing. He led her to step outside and get some fresh air while he went back in and called the paramedics to come and check her out. He walked back outside and noticed Jen was lying on the porch, her face a color purple. Walter immediately went to his knees recognizing she’s not breathing. His CPR training immediately kicked in and he began chest compressions by pushing hard and fast. He then gave Jen two huge breaths and she then let out a huge gasp for air.
“I’ll never forget the sound of her breath that day.” His eyes filled with water and a tear streamed down his cheek. He gently paused as if reliving that very moment, silently hearing her breath again as if he were on that exact porch almost forty years ago.
He heard the ambulance grow nearer within only minutes. To Walter, again, it felt like an eternity.
At the hospital, tests were done and this time more thorough than her past doctor visits. The scans showed a tumor wrapped around her windpipe, leaving only a pin needle of an airway for Jen to breath through. No prior doctor visits showed this because of the internal exams they were doing in her throat, not the outside of the throat area. Doctors said they were amazed at how Walter was able to blow oxygen into her lungs with that small of a windpipe. Walter thought back to his CPR Training, when he was told to take it easy on the manikin and how him and Jen found that part of class so funny. Those hard breaths is what saved her life working its way through her pin sized windpipes. Walter saved his daughter’s life. Walter took one experience, learned from it, and made sure that he was never put into a helpless position again. Never did he realize until then how it would save his own family.
|Jen with her Mom & Dad today|
At 18, Jennifer went on to begin chemo, focusing on killing the cancer that nearly choked her to death that fateful day; Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. She went on to graduate, embracing her second chance at life. What are the chances; the chances of her dad being home with their family that night and not leaving for the airport sooner for work, the chances of the cancer never being found at previous doctors appointments, the CPR classes never being taken if Walter had took it for granted thinking, “someone else will always be there knowing CPR” and especially the chance of Walter having enough breath to breathe through Jen’s constricted airway. These are all chances, little moments we embrace throughout life that make a difference. A difference that Jen would never be with us today, impacting an entirely new and growing generation, almost forty years later. Angels working in full circle, carefully placing each piece of the puzzle in position.
As we sat with Walter at the nursing home hanging onto his every thoughtful word recollecting these memories of his past so long ago, he held his wife’s hand with her sitting at his side. Jen sat on the couch next to the both of them and let her tears flow as she smiled proudly of the man who saved her life, that she was blessed to call Dad. Photos of family and 8x10’s of seven beautiful grandchildren surrounded the room. A gorgeous painting of St. Thomas hung above their television. Jen laughed as she told us, “Dad didn’t care where any of the furniture or other pieces went inside their new home, only this photo had to be placed above the TV where he could see it everyday. “
“Doubting Thomas is a great story that we could all learn from,” Walter looked up responding to Jen and he said it with such a smile as if it that photo guided him through life as a guardian angel.
|Walter, Karin & their 7 grandchildren|
“Every little piece of action you make in this life, every little thing you do, makes a difference in some way or form. You may never ever know the difference you make in a person’s life. The paramedic that day at the Lions Club Meeting may never know how many lives he saved by taking the time to teach our community. But I know it saved our family. I have a beautiful daughter, four of them, kind and thoughtful grandkids and a family I’m very proud of. I have a wife at my side who made sure our girls knew how to treat others and respect one another. She worked hard at home raising them well, while I was traveling and always on the road working. This is the life I’ve been given and I can look back and say how very proud of it I am.”
- Walter Rolfs shares his thoughts with us as he looks back at his life and continues moving forward.
|Connie, Cameron & Jen 2019|
It was the first time I was back at work outside of the home and I knew working with kids was where my heart felt full. A little anxious and excited at the same time, I met my new co-workers throughout the day. Kids loved one teacher assistant in particular and I kept hearing her name as the kids excitedly talked of her and how anxious they were to see her for the first time since returning from vacation. Parents and teachers alike all spoke so highly of her kindness and love that she spread throughout the school, the impact of a woman and I was anxious to meet. “Is she here yet? Is Mrs. P here?” as the kids chattered throughout the morning. A smiling lady with a full, shiny heart beamed through as she turned the corner and headed my way. Her smile so excited to be with the kids again and a gentle hand reached out to me, “ Welcome! You must be Mrs. Connie?” “Yes I am.” replying feeling like I’ve already known her for years. “My name is Mrs. P! I’m so glad to meet you, call me Jen.”
|Cameron, aka Camera Man, chatting with Walter.|
|Jen, Connie, Karin & Walter|
And its this moment that began a friendship and that later, led us to meeting her dad, Walter. For him to share his story of how he saved our Mrs. P, everyone's friend today, and his daughter forty years ago and how he too, feels everyone should know CPR.