RICHARDTON, N.D. — Early morning freezing gusts and snow-covered roads turned one family’s trip home into a nightmare, and provided one teenager with the opportunity to put her training to use — to save a life.

Anika Sayler, a junior at Dickinson High School, was traveling back from Glen Ullin, N.D., on Monday, April 19, when she first noticed the rapidly changing conditions.

“It was sunny and nice and within a few miles, out of nowhere, it started to get dark and snow began to fall. Normally the snow melts pretty quickly, but it was packed on the road even though the winds were blowing really hard,” Sayler said. “I usually drive in the left lane unless I see a car approaching behind me, and I got worried about driving there because (the snow) was really building up. I moved into the right lane and next thing I know the eighteen-wheeler in front of me slammed on his brakes.”

The teenager tried to follow suit but her vehicle began to slide and spin until she was able to regain control.

“I was sitting in the car a little embarrassed and tried to regain my composure when I looked over and saw why the eighteen-wheeler had slammed on his brakes,” Sayler said. “I saw a woman on the phone and you could tell by her facial expressions that something was wrong. Then I looked and saw a man laying on the ground and a pickup smashed and laying on its roof.”

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Anika Sayler, a junior at Dickinson High School, saved a life following a harrowing rollover accident near Richardton on Monday, April 19. (Photo courtesy of Anika Sayler)
Anika Sayler, a junior at Dickinson High School, saved a life following a harrowing rollover accident near Richardton on Monday, April 19. (Photo courtesy of Anika Sayler)

Sayler had driven into the scene of a horrific rollover accident.

The 2002 Ford F-250 was traveling eastbound on Interstate 94, about 4 miles east of Richardton, in the inclement weather when the driver lost control and entered the median. A trailer being pulled by the truck disconnected and rolled into the median before coming to rest facing south in the westbound lanes.

The F-250 continued across the westbound lanes before rolling in the north ditch and coming to rest on its roof facing the west. Inside the vehicle was driver Duane Sattler, of Richardton, his wife, Kimberly, and son Shawn.

“The truck was completely crushed and I immediately thought that whoever was in that vehicle probably didn’t make it,” Sayler said, becoming emotional as recalled the scene. “I jumped out of my car and made my way to the ditch to see if there was anything I could do. It was very, very cold. I was wearing sandals with no socks.”

When Sayler approached the ditch, she noticed a man performing CPR on a man who she said looked to be already deceased.

“There was a man in his mid-50s laying on his back on the ground. When I approached I noticed that his eyes were grayed and glossed over. When I got there there was only the family, one other man, a woman and myself. I saw the other man attempting to perform CPR, but from my freshman classes at DHS and my current studies for my certified nurse assistant, I could tell that the CPR wasn’t being performed correctly.”

Sayler said she asked if she could take over while someone called for emergency services. She felt for a radial and carotid pulse and felt nothing. She immediately began performing the lifesaving measures on Duane Sattler.

“I remember taking that freshman year CPR class and how boring I thought it was, and how I would never use it,” Sayler said. “I was wrong.”

After seven or eight cycles of 30 compressions and two breaths, she checked for a pulse again — nothing.

“I wasn’t going to stop until emergency services arrived,” she said. “Finally, I could see that he was trying to breathe. I checked his pulse and felt a faint radial pulse, so I stopped the chest compressions.”

The teenager checked the airway of the man and noticed that his mouth had begun to fill with blood and it was choking the victim.

“I rolled him to his side slightly to help drain the pooling blood. I even tried to ease his jaw open, but it was clamped shut,” Sayler recalled. “Finally I could hear him breathing — more like gasping for air — but that was a good sign.”

Sayler said she then surveyed the rest of the scene to see if other medical aid was needed, but noted that by this point others had arrived on the scene and were talking with Kimberly Sattler and Shawn Sattler, so she stayed with who she felt was the more critical victim.

“As the man began to regain more and more consciousness he became somewhat combative, which is normal as people are regaining consciousness after a severe accident,” Sayler said. “I noticed that he became more responsive, was moving his eyes and I could tell was in really bad pain because he was grunting loudly. So I stayed with him trying to calm him down and keep him from moving around too much.”

Sayler recalls saying to the man over and over, “Help is on the way; you’re going to be OK.”

“He told me his name and that he couldn’t breathe. I was waiting and waiting for the ambulance to come and it felt like forever. Finally the ambulance arrived and I stayed to help get him on the board and loaded into the ambulance before I went back to my car,” she said. “That was when I realized that my feet were completely red and I couldn’t feel them anymore. I was essentially barefoot out there for what seemed like an eternity.”

All three of the Sattlers were transported to CHI St. Alexius Dickinson for injuries sustained in the crash, before Duane and Shawn were airlifted to Bismarck for emergency specialty care. Duane Sattler was later airlifted to Fargo.

Kimberly Sattler has been released from the hospital, while Shawn and Duane Sattler are listed as stabilized in the ICU with serious critical injuries as of Thursday.

“The teenage girl that was at the scene assisting in CPR did a great thing,” Sgt. Christopher Messer, North Dakota Highway Patrol said. “It’s very important in rural North Dakota to have people trained in CPR, because we are not close at times and the public might arrive at a scene before we do — and that’s pretty common. To have somebody be able to give lifesaving things is important and helpful for emergency responders and the people involved in these types of situations.”

Messer added, “A lot of people don’t want to get involved and it’s a great thing that younger people are getting involved, and have learned what to do in those types of situations. Some schools are teaching it and it’s a great thing to get as many people as possible trained in because it has been shown to help. That early lifesaving in an accident goes a long way.”

Sayler attributed her ability to help to the educational programming at Dickinson High School, and characterized the CPR course as a tool to help everyone be a first responder.

“I’ve decided that I want to be an intensive care unit nurse and talking with my boss at work, she said this is the type of stuff I would be dealing with if I continue down that path,” Sayler said. “I think it gave me my first perspective of emergency life-and death situations.”

Sayler added, “Seeing that man in this position, when he was most vulnerable and in need, has made me certain that a profession in the medical field is the best place to be to provide that type of help.”