During the annual National Science Foundation Awards Gala, honors were being given for a lifetime achievement, a distinguished young investigator, and an organization that has done noteworthy outreach.
The event was a black-tie affair, and the guest list contained many influential people in the science policy community. Dr. John P. Holdren, the new Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, attended and addressed the guests. A sumptuous dinner was served, and the awards presentation commenced.
Dr. Mildred “Millie” Dresselhaus was at the head table. After receiving an award for lifetime achievement, she was seated back at the side of her husband, Dr. Gene Dresselhaus. She held his hand, and he appeared to be falling asleep. She squeezed his palm with her fingers to try to awake him, to no avail. Within 30 seconds, Gene had slumped in his chair and was literally leaning on a member of the National Science Board.
For a few moments, the award presentations awkwardly continued. Finally, the men at the head table gently lowered Gene onto the carpet, on his back. He appeared to be unconscious.
Suddenly, from the adjacent table, Dr. Margaret Ellis Bourdeaux, who was in attendance, stood and rushed over, like a breeze. Her curly, bright red hair, fair skin, and teal full-length gown were striking, but not as striking as her calm and direct actions.
Dr. Bourdeaux, dress be damned, knelt down beside Dr. Dresselhaus, very close to his face.
“Gene. Gene! Gene, can you hear me? GENE, CAN YOU HEAR ME?” She calmly spoke to Dr. Dresselhaus. She leaned close to his face to ascertain whether he was breathing, her frizzy red hair covering his face. He was not breathing.
“I’m doing chest compressions,” she stated calmly. She leaned over him and promptly began doing CPR. Her fair arms began performing thirty gentle chest compressions. Then mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Two breaths. Thirty more chest compressions. Mouth…
Gene let out a very loud cough. “Gene, are you okay?” Dr. Bourdeaux asked.”
“Yes,” was the answer, in a weak voice.
Dr. Bourdeaux began talking quietly to him, asking him various questions to assess consciousness. His hand touched his chest. He drew his knees up a little. He remained lying on the floor.
Within ten minutes, an ambulance had arrived. Space was cleared in the dining hall, and paramedics transported him out on a stretcher.
Watching Dr. Bourdeaux save the life of Dr. Gene Dresselhaus, right there at my feet, was an amazing experience. It was an occurrence that deeply touched everyone in that room. It made me think about how transient and brief all of our lives are. How everything we strive for, all of the relationships, all of the education, everything…can be snuffed out like a candle suddenly. Life is so transient.
Dr. Margaret Ellis Bourdeaux should have received an award that night. She was the true hero of the evening.
We all will be forever indebted to her for what she did. A man could have died that night in the diplomatic rooms, just as his wife had received a career achievement award. Instead, Dr. Bourdeaux demonstrated incredible courage and skill to avert the crisis.