Mackenzie Hamm was working in her office at First Lutheran Church on a late Wednesday morning in March when she heard people yelling for help.

She followed the cries to the church kitchen and found Dave Johnson, a longtime cook there, collapsed. He had lost consciousness and wasn’t breathing.

Hamm, the Support Ministries Director at the church, kept her cool and acted fast. Someone had already called 911, but she knew there was more that could be done right away.

Well-trained in CPR, she took control of the situation and started doing chest compressions on Johnson. She revived him before the ambulance arrived.

Because of her actions, Johnson is alive and well today.

“I don’t feel half bad,” Johnson said with a little laugh Thursday, July 18, at a ceremony to honor Hamm for her efforts.

The Detroit Lakes woman was awarded a medal and Red Cross Lifesaving Award Certificate of Merit, signed by President Donald Trump, at the special ceremony at First Lutheran Church in Detroit Lakes. The Certificate of Merit is the highest award given by the American Red Cross.

“What’s extra special about this is that, sometimes saving lives is part of someone’s job; other times, people take it upon themselves to learn how to save a life,” said Lynn Speral, Regional CEO for the American Red Cross. “You never know when there might be a time to put those skills to use … The big deal about what she did is, it’s not part of her job. It’s pretty incredible.”

According to a letter from the Red Cross, Hamm’s actions on March 13 exemplify “the highest degree of concern of one human being for another who is in distress.”

Speral was emotional as she presented Hamm with the Lifesaving Award, saying she was honored to be a part of Thursday’s “celebration of a life-saver, and a life saved.”

She explained that it was Hamm’s husband, Mike, who notified the Red Cross of his wife’s heroic actions. He wrote to the organization, describing what had happened and what Hamm did to save Johnson’s life.

“I know the man is grateful to her, the church is proud, and as her husband, I am also very proud of the work that she does,” he wrote. “I am extremely proud of her for being able to keep a calm mind and take control of the situation, being able to save this man’s life.”

The couple’s five children, who were at the celebration, said they’re proud of their mom, too.

Hamm said she’ll never forget the look on Johnson’s face when he opened his eyes and took his first breath after regaining consciousness. He looked startled, and a little confused.

“His first words were, ‘What happened? Did I pass out or something?’” she recalled.

At first, Johnson had no idea that he had just suffered a heart attack.

He said he awoke to the sight of EMTs, police officers and “all kinds of people around,” including Hamm, who stayed by his side until he was taken away in an ambulance.

“I had a portable defibrillator on me, and they took me away to the ER here (in Detroit Lakes), and then to Sanford in Fargo,” he says. “I was in the hospital for three days.”

Johnson said he has struggled with heart and other health issues for years, but by no means was he expecting to have a heart attack that day in March. He was preparing a meal for a church luncheon, as he had done many times before, when he suddenly felt overcome by heat and exhaustion, and needed to sit down. That’s the last thing he remembers before waking up and seeing all those people around him.

“It was unbelievable,” he said of Hamm’s life-saving efforts. “I’m glad to be here today.”

Hamm said the credit shouldn’t go to her alone, as there were a number of people at the church that day who helped out.

“It’s not just me,” she said. “I appreciate this (award), but it’s the team that was in the kitchen with Dave … Everyone had a part in it, there were steps involved. It was a team aspect, so they all deserve a round of applause, too.”

Hamm has been trained in First Aid, CPR and AED defibrillators through the Red Cross for about 15 years. This was the first time she’s ever had to use her skills in a real life-saving situation.

“As honored as I am to receive the award, the most important thing for me in all this is for everybody to keep up on their CPR certifications,” she said. “Because this does happen, and you just don't know … when you’re going to need it.”

The Red Cross has been giving out Lifesaving Awards since 1911. In that time, the award has been given to 331 individuals, who have helped save 140 lives. The awards are issued by the organization’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., and are given to individuals who have saved or sustained a life as a direct result of Red Cross training.

More information on the Red Cross, and available First Aid and CPR classes in the local area, is available at redcross.org.

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