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West Campus Alum's CPR Saves Infant's Life in Role as Santa Clara Deputy

8/19/2010 (Archived)

Dr. Rick Chaeff, an ’87 West Campus alumnus and former West faculty member (‘87-’97) who is now a deputy with the Santa Clara Sheriff's Department, was recently honored by the San Jose Board of Supervisors and the Santa Clara County Society of the California Chiropractic Association for performing CPR and saving the life of a 17-day-old infant in June.

Dr. Chaeff taught the emergency procedures course at Palmer’s West Campus for 10 years, during which he certified nearly 1,000 students in CPR. He’d performed CPR several times, in practice as well as on duty – but never on an infant. Nor under such stressful conditions, where every second was a matter of life or death.

The child’s grandmother was frantically driving her daughter and the baby to the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center when she noticed the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s vehicle parked outside a Campbell coffee shop, where Dr. Chaeff and his partner were getting ready to start their shift. The grandmother stopped the car, and ran inside, screaming for help. It took several tries, but on the fifth attempt, as the infant lay in his arms, straining to breath, her complexion turning blue, Dr. Chaeff was able to clear mucus and resuscitate the child, who was immediately transported by ambulance to SCVMC.

Ken Yeager, president of the San Jose Board of Supervisors, and representative for the district in which the West Campus is based, read the commendation to a packed chamber audience. The baby’s mother and grandmother also had words of praise and appreciation for Dr. Chaeff and his patrol partner, Michael Laddy.

“It’s obviously terrifying when you have a two-week-old infant in your arms, and it was a bit wild for a while; but it worked out as well as it could have,” said Dr. Chaeff, who has served as tactical medical team leader of the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Emergency Response Team (SERT) since 1997, and provides chiropractic care for some of his fellow officers as well for the members of the San Jose Ballet Company.

Dr. Chaeff’s role as a Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department is his primary full-time position, but he’s been an active chiropractic practitioner and advocate in the years since he was a member of the West Campus faculty – which is one of the primary reasons that the Santa Clara CCA society decided to also recognize Dr. Chaeff’s live-saving heroics.

“The life-saving effort that Dr. Chaeff performed highlights not only his personal expertise, but also the high level of education and professional training that a doctor of chiropractic receives,” said Dr. Robert Chatfield, D.C., ’83 West alumnus and alternate director of the Santa Clara County CCA chapter, who was accompanied by fellow officers Dr. Brad Kobsar (’95) and Dr. Stacey Adams-Hammond (’02) in the award presentation.

“As doctors, it is so important to be prepared for life’s dramatic and unexpected emergencies. As board members of the Santa Clara CCA, it is important to bring positive attention to the profession, and to professionals like Dr. Chaeff, who displays the highest virtues that our profession serves.”

"I am so grateful. A thousand thank yous or words in the dictionary won't be enough," said a teary-eyed Maria Adelman, the grandmother of two-month-old Isys. "People say there are angels here on Earth, and there they are."

"I didn't know anything about chiropractic before the incident, and obviously I didn't know (Dr. Chaeff) was a chiropractor when we saw the patrol car, and stopped,” said Isys’ mother, Bernice Brown.“But what I do know now is that his (chiropractic) training helped save my baby's life."

“My main emphasis in teaching CPR was always to get students to remain calm, and never let emotions and feelings during an emergency be one’s guide,” said Dr. Chaeff, who in 1993 received the prestigious William Poelle award from then-San Jose Mayor Susan Hammer in a ceremony recognizing the heroic efforts of police officers who have helped save a person’s life.

“The worst thing in the world during an emergency is to ‘go with your gut’ or be ‘intuitive,’ trusting the universe will magically tell you the right thing to do. This does not happen in ‘real life’. The Universe is perfectly happy to kill you, if you don't use your head. When the adrenaline hits, it tends to cut one’s IQ in half. So, in a CPR case, the goal is to be UN-emotional, and to objectively keep your priorities straight. In my experience, both on the street and in practice, the student or doctor who embraces ‘intuitive’ mindset does so because it’s easier than studying hard. I prefer the serious student or doctor to work on me.

”Dr. Chaeff is equally honored and humbled by the worldwide media attention that his life-saving and heart-warming story garnered. And while the exterior uniform shows the law enforcement side of his life, he also wears his Palmer pride every day on the job.

“If students learn anything from my experience, I hope they see what a great education that Palmer provides in preparing its students for the clinical challenges they will see in practice,” said Dr. Chaeff, who also provided care for poor villagers in Mexico with the “Flying Doctors.”

“It was an honor to receive the award from the Board of Supervisors, but I’m equally honored to be recognized by my chiropractic peers. As a Palmer alumnus and former instructor at the West Campus, I’m forever ‘true to my school,’ and my alma mater will always be an important part of my education and life.”

Photo: Dr. Stacey Adams-Hammond, Dr. Robert Chatfield (left) and Dr. Brad Kobsar (right) presented Dr. Rick Chaeff (center) with a recognition resolution at a ceremony honoring Dr. Chaeff’s life-saving CPR on Isys, whom he’s holding.