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July 4, 2009
At 7 PM on July 4, in Fort Myers airport, Florida my family and I were walking toward the boarding gate of our JetBlue flight 138 heading back home to New York. As we approached the boarding gate, we saw a gate attendant kneeling on the floor next to an elderly man who was clearly unresponsive. The gate attendant had his finger on the man’s carotid artery, checking for a pulse. My son immediately dropped his laptop ran over to the man on the floor, announced that he was a first responder and a firefighter and also checked for a pulse. Having found no pulse and that he was not breathing, my son directed that they immediately begin CPR and advised the gate attendant to begin chest compressions.
A few moments later, a Port Authority policeman arrived and my son requested a mask to ventilate his lungs.
Together, the gate attendant and my son worked as a team to perform CPR on this cardiac arrest victim. If you’ve ever performed CPR it is physically taxing. Your adrenaline is pumping and you’re focused on reviving the patient.
Chest compressions and ventilation continued for minutes until the pilot of our plane and another Port Authority police officer arrived with an automatic external defibrillator. Two large electrodes strips were placed on this man’s body and the defibrilator was activated.
If you’ve never seen an automatic defibrillator in action, it’s fascinating to watch and to hear. It announces that it is evaluating the patient’s heart rate and once it has finished assessing heart rate, it immediately recommends action and whether or not to shock the patient in an attempt to restore the normal heart rhythm.
After the first assessment was made by the automatic defibrilator, it recommended that the patient be shocked immediately. Once you press the button to administer the shock, the automatic defibrilator advises that everyone should stand back away from the patient. If you’ve ever seen someone shocked using defibrillator paddles on TV, it is the same as watching it in real life. A tremendous jolt of electricity is sent throughout the patient’s body to try and restore the heart rhythm or to get the heart rhythm reverted back to normal.
In this case, after the shock had been administered, my son and the gate attendant continued CPR until the automatic defibrilator advised to momentarily stop so it could check for a heart rate. At this point, there was still no heart rate or respirations. The defibrillator again recommended shocking the patient, and after the patient was shocked for the second time, the patient regained a pulse and respirations. My son together with an EMS attendant and the gate attendant turned the patient onto his side in order to prevent him from inhaling any fluids into his lungs (known as aspiration), now that he was breathing again.
By this time, two other emergency medical crews arrived and took over where my son had left off.
My son is 17 years old and is a volunteer firefighter with the Vigilant Fire Department here in Great Neck. Watching my son take control of this medical emergency and selflessly run to help this man in distress gave me the greatest feeling I could ever have as a parent. All of his training with the fire department effortlessly kicked into gear and I’m proud to say that my son helped save a life on July 4, 2009, Independence Day.
On the plane ride home to New York, my son told me this was his 15th time performing CPR. Looking at him, I could see the sparkle in his eye knowing that he did something good for someone else. Even though we were unaware of this man’s fate, I couldn’t help but think what a great person my son turned out to be.