It was a difference of 10 minutes between life and death for Brian Gretz.
Gretz, who works as a systems coordinator for La Plata County’s IT department, started his day on Sept. 4 like any other: riding his bike to work.
On the way in, a bee hit Gretz in the chest and went into his shirt, stinging him on the chest. He was less than a mile from his office in the basement of the La Plata County Courthouse, and he didn’t think much of the sting.
But as he entered the building, Gretz started to sweat and feel jittery, and he knew something wasn’t right. Gretz went into his boss’s office, James Torres, operations manager for the IT department, and told him of the sting. He said he wasn’t feeling well.
Torres got Gretz some Benadryl, fearing an allergic reaction. Then everything went dark.
“The last thing I remember was getting that Benadryl,” Gretz said.
But for the county’s IT department, everything was just getting started.
Torres said he is first-aid-certified, and he knew he had to act quickly while keeping his composure.
Gretz’s face had turned red, and he was slumping over, Torres said. So he laid Gretz on the floor and on his side in case he vomited.
Another colleague, Kelly Hobby, stayed with Gretz while Torres called 911. Medics were notified at 8:29 a.m. and arrived at 8:34 a.m., a five-minute, 13-second arrival time, said Scot Davis, with the Durango Fire Protection District.
Durango Fire’s EMS chief, Scott Sholes, said Gretz was experiencing a severe allergic reaction that put him in anaphylactic shock – when blood pressure rapidly drops and not enough blood gets to the organs. Emergency crews administered epinephrine, or an EpiPen.
Gretz was then taken to Mercy Regional Medical Center.
Sholes said that had another 10 minutes gone by without the use of epinephrine, the outcome could have been dramatically different.
“It’s definitely a life-threatening illness,” he said.
Gretz took a few days off to rest and returned to work Sept. 10.
“It was difficult coming in and walking past the scene of the incident,” he said. “I’m trying to piece things together and remember what happened.”
Gretz said he never had an allergic reaction before in his life. He’s now hypervigilant of bees and carries an EpiPen.
“It makes you more aware of life,” Gretz said of the incident. “When things happen now, I think, ‘If things went the wrong way, I may not be with my family. I would have missed this.’ It’s a weird feeling.”
“Words don’t express how grateful you can be.”
Torres said the incident has caused intense self-reflection in the department. He wants to bring in more regular first-aid and CPR training. He said he was proud how his staff reacted.
“The takeaway here is there should always be someone, or multiple people, trained in first aid,” he said. “That can be the difference between saving someone’s life and losing someone’s life. I think that’s the critical lesson.
“Anywhere there’s a group of people who work together, they should offer CPR and first aid,” he said.
The IT department recently was singled out at a county meeting for its actions that day. Brian’s wife, Cheryl, spoke to the team, saying it was the couple’s son’s 18th birthday that day.
“I almost became a widow,” she said. “We’re absolutely grateful for their action and not freezing. He would have lost a father that day.”