911 dispatcher was 'angel' for Clearwater couple

Michelle and Alan Waldron, left, meet with 911 operator Laura Gerczak in the county Emergency Operations Center on Friday.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Michelle and Alan Waldron, left, meet with 911 operator Laura Gerczak in the county Emergency Operations Center on Friday.

CLEARWATER — The couple waited three months to meet the angel.

Alan and Michelle Waldron sat silently Friday evening in the basement of the Pinellas County Courthouse Annex, where the Pinellas County 911 dispatchers work.

Any minute now, they knew, their angel would walk through the door.

Alan, a 48-year-old information technology consultant, wouldn't be able to hug his three grandkids now if it weren't for her.

He wouldn't get to kiss Michelle, 51, and stroke her long, blond hair.

He wouldn't be alive.

Around 4 a.m. on Oct. 13, Michelle Waldron woke to the sound of her husband gasping. Startled, she rolled over in their bed and tried to rouse him. But Alan wouldn't open his eyes.

Michelle fumbled for her phone and dialed 911. A steady, female voice answered.

"Stay calm," the dispatcher directed. "Get him to the floor."

The next 10 minutes — the duration of the call — are a blur: Alan, suffering sudden cardiac arrest, remained unconscious. Michelle, hysterical but following the dispatcher's directions, placed her hands on his chest, pushed down again and again and again.

Good, the dispatcher told her. Keep going. This moves his blood through his body.

When paramedics arrived at the Waldrons' Clearwater condo, Michelle quickly thanked the dispatcher and hung up. Alan woke at Largo Medical Center the next day, shaken but cognizant. The doctors gave him an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator — a battery-powered heart guardian — and a prognosis for a full recovery.

The couple wondered: Who was that 911 woman? They wanted to thank her, so they found her, Laura Gerczak, through the Pinellas County Emergency Communications Department.

Alan wrote her a letter and they arranged to meet Friday evening at the 911 center in downtown Clearwater. Alan and Michelle just wanted to look into her eyes, shake her hand and give her a box of almond toffee. They were taken aback by the media that showed up, alerted by a county press release.

Laura Gerczak, 28 and a 911 dispatcher for five years, was camera shy, too. She became a dispatcher because she wanted to help people — just like her husband, a Seminole firefighter. She trained long and hard for a job that requires she deal calmly with upset or frightened people all night.

While she hasn't sought the limelight, accolades have come her way. In May, Laura was named Florida's 911 Public Safety Telecommunicator of the Year.

On Friday night, she was worried she might cry when she met the Waldrons. Nervous, she stepped into the room.

"Hi," she said softly. "How are you?"

Alan hugged her. Michelle, in tears, hugged her harder.

"We want you to know how much we appreciate you," Michelle whispered. "We want you to know how important you are."

Laura couldn't hold back. She cried, too.

"I'm so glad he's okay," she said.

They all hugged again, laughed, and chatted about kids and grandkids.

"Thank you again," Alan said, "for saving my life."

Danielle Paquette can be reached at dpaquette@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4224.

911 dispatcher was 'angel' for Clearwater couple 12/29/12 [Last modified: Saturday, December 29, 2012 1:37pm]

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