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If a wingman falls, it is too late to learn how to help

  • Published
  • By Maj. Michael Morrow
  • 621st Contingency Response Wing

It was Sept. 19, and my last day as a student at the Building Partner Aviation Capacity Course at Hulburt Field.  I had a little bit of time before our graduation ceremony later that afternoon, so I hit the fitness center for a quick workout.   


I was on a treadmill with my headphones on, thinking about travelling home, when I saw a commotion in front of me.  A man was on the ground in the middle of the elliptical machines. Someone was kneeling over him.  I assumed he had fallen until I saw the responder shaking him unsuccessfully. I immediately ran to the victim's side and was told he got off his machine and collapsed. 


Prior to my current role as an air advisor for the 818th Mobility Support Advisory Squadron, I was an Air Force Emergency Room technician and Flight Nurse.  I have participated in several "codes" in hospitals and once in the back of a C-17.  In short, I have been trained to handle a lot of different medical emergencies.  But what I really called upon that day was wasn't my experience as a nurse, it was from a class we all are required to attend.  It was, in my opinion, the most basic yet critical medical training the Air Force offers - CPR.


I did a rapid assessment and noted he was unresponsive, pale, and his breathing appeared to be ineffective.  I could also not find a pulse, so I immediately started chest compressions and yelled for an automated external defibrillator (AED).  One of my classmates, Maj. Jody McKinnon, ran downstairs to notify the staff to call 911. 


We went through several cycles of CPR until the AED arrived and I had everyone switch positions while I attached it.  The AED then advised "shock" so I pressed the button. 


As he reacted to the shock being delivered to his heart, so did the crowd around us.  This was significant, but I didn't reflect on this until later.   


We continued CPR and pulse checks for several more cycles until the medical crew arrived.   Then I helped load the patient on the backboard for transport. 


After the medical team left the workout area, I thanked those that participated and went downstairs.  The ambulance was still there with the patient inside.  Thankfully, we were told he had a pulse and appeared to be stable. 


According to the American Heart Association, "Effective bystander CPR provided immediately after sudden cardiac arrest can double or triple a victim's chance of survival, but only 32 percent of cardiac arrest victims get CPR from a bystander."  Therefore, sadly "less than 8 percent of people who suffer cardiac arrest outside the hospital survive."


As I reflected later, I realized the value of that crowd during the emergency. 


The crowd that had gathered was not there to watch, they had gathered to assist.  I don't know if I was helped by active duty service members, Reservists, or retirees but everyone present saw the emergency and acted rapidly and efficiently.  I was the second responder, someone else was already there assessing the situation.  Another alerted the gym staff and called 911.  An AED appeared out of nowhere and someone else pulled the shirt up and wiped his chest off.  Two people were always giving chest compressions and mouth to mouth.  Others cleared the room of gym equipment to allow passage of the gurney and helped lift him.  Finally, he was transported in an Air Force ambulance by a competent medical team. 


We all are required to attend CPR class. My experience in the gym showed me why.  Every crowd of Airmen is a potential team of lifesavers.  


But what if this had happened in a mall or out in the woods?  Would you be ready to step up and do what needed to be done, or if need be, take charge? Be honest. Is it time to brush up on your CPR skills or sign up for another class? Do you know how to operate an AED? Do you know where the closest one is? 


Because as I learned last week, when the next test comes, it is way too late to study.    Be prepared, it could save a life.