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A young college student working as a medic at a Pennsylvania camp for disabled people died from a series of strokes that her family says was caused by heroic efforts to resuscitate a woman in cardiac arrest.
Samantha Agins, 22, spent more than 30 minutes performing CPR on the stricken camper — an autistic woman in her 40s — but was unable to save her life, her father told NBC News.
Agins then fell ill herself, but paramedics at the scene in the Pocono Mountains and her family initially thought she was simply in shock from the ordeal.
After her condition took a sudden turn for the worse, doctors discovered she had torn an artery and had damage to her brain stem — the result of her earlier exertions, the family said.
Agins, who became an emergency medical technician to prepare for a career as a physician assistant, was taken off life support on Tuesday, four days after the incident at the camp.
"Knowing she died trying to save a life, which is what she wanted to do, brings a little comfort for us," said her dad, Bruce Agins. "It doesn’t bring her back. It doesn’t fill the void. It does bring some comfort."
He said his daughter was a senior at East Stroudsburg University and planned to attend a physician assistant's program after graduation.
As part of that process, she needed to accrue time working with patients and decided to become certified as an emergency medical technician to meet the requirement.
Some of her relatives worked at the New Jersey Jaycee Camp, and Agins landed a job there as an EMT for the summer.
"Knowing she died trying to save a life, which is what she wanted to do, brings a little comfort for us."
She mainly dealt with cuts and bruises, but last Friday night she was summoned to help the camper, her father said. She hooked up a defibrillator, which instructed her to perform chest compressions and CPR. She did that for 30 to 40 minutes, he said.
"It's very strenuous," he said. A spokesman for the camp described Agins' attempt as "heroic and valiant."
When an ambulance arrived, those medics relieved Agins but were not able to revive the camper. The novice EMT seemed to be in shock from the situation — she threw up and was "white as a ghost," her father said.
Her mother was called to the camp and took her daughter home. When disturbing new symptoms cropped up, she called 911 — but by the time the ambulance arrived, Samantha was no longer responsive.
Her father said that after running tests, doctors at Pocono Medical Center found the severe injury, determined that she'd had several strokes, and transferred her to Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia.
Neurosurgeons there told the family that Samantha probably had a weak spot in her artery that gave way during the CPR. They said she would never recover, and her parents made the wrenching decision to remove life support on Tuesday and to donate her tissue.
"She could possibly help hundreds more people with that," Bruce Agins said. "She was always a giver."
"She's a hero because she tried."
The family has been making plans for a Monday memorial service and fielding messages of support from the EMT community, which considers her a line-of-duty casualty.
Her grandmother, Edna Agins, said the family is devastated by the loss, but has found solace in the fact that she was trying to save a life.
"That's the only thing that's keeping us together," she said.
Her father said he hopes that what people remember about Samantha is her smile.
"She always smiled and always made everyone else smile," he said.
"Her other legacy is this: If you can help someone, you have to try," he added. "She's a hero because she tried."