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K-State Today

December 17, 2019

Wichita Police Department recognizes veterinary medicine researchers, extension agent for heroic service

Submitted by Jennifer Tidball

Two Kansas State University veterinary medicine researchers and a K-State Research and Extension — Sedgwick County horticulture agent have received awards from the Wichita Police Department for their roles in saving three lives through their quick diagnosis of blue-green algae.

In the College of Veterinary Medicine, Steve Ensley, veterinary toxicologist and clinical professor of anatomy and physiology, and Scott Fritz, research associate with the Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, have received the Outstanding Citizen Assistance Plaque. Matthew McKernan, horticulture agent with K-State Research and Extension — Sedgwick County, has received the Certificate of Appreciation.

The award stems from an August incident near West Kellogg in Wichita when a suspicious character tried to escape police officers by swimming into a retention pond. The teenager could not swim and disappeared underwater for 30 seconds. Wichita police officers Terry Nelson and Drew Rhoades dove into the water, rescued the teenager and brought her to shore to administer CPR until emergency medical services arrived. All three people soon became ill after exposure to the water and doctors believed that the teenager would die.

The Wichita Police Department reached out to McKernan of K-State Research and Extension — Sedgwick County to test the quality of the retention pond water. McKernan helped police officers contact the Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. Wichita police officers drove pond water samples to the laboratory in Manhattan, where Ensley and Fritz immediately began testing the water and found that the water had a heightened presence of a blue-green algae toxin. The test results helped medical staff treat Nelson, Rhoades and the teenager. All three people eventually made a full recovery.

In his award nomination letter, Wichita Police Sgt. Christian Cory, a 1999 K-State graduate, said that Ensley's and Fritz's "selfless determination and quick turnaround in assisting the officers, not only gave them peace of mind, but allowed medical staff to make informed decisions as to medical treatment options."

McKernan also was praised "for service rendered to the community and citizens of the City of Wichita, Kansas, in the interest of better Law Enforcement."