Tri-City Times — Tragedy was averted last month for a Country Smoke House employee and its all due to the business’s automatic external defibrillator (AED) and the staff members who came to her aid.

Last week, Medstar EMS acknowledged co-owners Suzanne and Steve Francis and managers Todd Kaatz and Carma Capizzo for jumping into action during the medical emergency. Joining them and Medstar officials was the patient herself, Debby Custodio, who’s since made a full recovery.

Steve Francis said the incident made him a believer in the importance of having an AED on site.

“It’s easy to think that’s just $1,000 hanging on the wall until you actually need it. Then you’re grateful that you have it,” Steve said.

Custodio had just arrived at the Smoke House for her shift and was preparing to begin her work day when a co-worker found her collapsed in one of the store’s hallways. The employee quickly notified Steve and Suzanne. Steve said that Suzanne, a trained nurse, started CPR right away with help from Todd Kaatz and Carma Capizzo while he retrieved the AED. It took several attempts before Custodio had a detectable pulse. Soon after, a Medstar EMS crew arrived.

“God was with her that day,” Steve said.

According to a press release from Medstar, Paramedic Angelina Bonino and EMT Gabriel Dunsmore continued CPR and administered heart resuscitation drugs. Those treatments helped achieve the return of spontaneous circulation, also known as ROSC.

“This outcome demonstrates the incredible value of having AEDs and people trained in CPR readily available in our communities,” said Kolby Miller, Medstar CEO.

“The patient made a full recovery and was discharged with no neurologic deficits, which is the best possible outcome in these types of cases.”

Steve said they purchased the AED about five years ago, not long after a customer at their BBQ stand experienced a medical emergency.

“We didn’t want to be in that situation again…I didn’t want to have to wait for an ambulance to start treatment,” he said.

According to the American Heart Association, survival rates from cardiac arrest double when a bystander uses an AED before first responders arrive.

Steve said he hopes other area businesses will consider purchasing an AED. He notes that rebuilt models are often available for around $500.

“These machines can save hundreds of lives,” Steve said.

Medstar offers grants that provide AEDs and CPR training to schools, churches, and other nonprofit and civic organizations in its service area. To learn more about Medstar’s AED and CPR grant program or to apply, go to

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