6 honored after saving woman’s life at Ionia Free Fair

The group of heroes who saved a woman's life pose for a photo on July 22, 2017.


IONIA, Mich. (WOOD) – Deep-fried food, farm animals, and high-flying fun — that’s what makes up a typical day at the Ionia Free Fair.

But for longtime local root beer vendor Char Austin, last Saturday was anything but typical.

She was working the family booth when something went wrong.

“I was waiting on somebody and he said I went down,” Austin said.

Police in Ionia said she went into cardiac arrest and didn’t have a pulse.

While Austin doesn’t remember any of it, what happened next was a true team rescue.

Char Austin at the award ceremony for a group of people who saved her life.

Retired Detroit firefighter Robert Zeineh and Grand Rapids nurse Melissa Craver started performing CPR. Then, three members of the Ionia Department of Public Safety stepped in.

Officer Chris Flanders, Officer Jennifer Skorka and Officer Randy Dankenbring were able to use an AED on Austin.

Eventually, her pulse came back.

Austin was flown by helicopter to the hospital. She said one of her arteries was completely clogged, but doctors cleared it up and she is expected to be okay.

One week after her life was saved, Austin’s heroes were back at the fairgrounds to receive life-saving awards from Ionia Department of Public Safety Director Troy Thomas.

“Without these people, obviously Char would not be here,” Thomas said to the large crowd that gathered to take in the ceremony.

Afterwards, Austin shared a smile and a hug with her new heroes.

“What do you say? I mean I have no words,” Austin said, holding back tears.

She’ll forever remember the people who gave her more time with her family and her husband.

“We’ve been married almost 50 years. And we got another chance,” she said.

A sixth man, Ron Netterfield, also played a crucial role in saving Austin’s life – but was not in attendance at Saturday’s ceremony.