By Gina Mayfield
It was one of those mornings. Every parent knows the drill: You’re running behind, then a child decides he’s not on board with the usual morning routine, one thing leads to another and before you know it, you’re three hours late for work.
That was Patty Hill’s experience one hot August morning. Shortly after she finally arrived for her shift at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, she stepped aside to take a phone call from her mother. Minutes into the call, Patty heard a cry for help. Then another. At that point, she quickly said to her mom, “I’m gonna call you right back,” and said to herself, Let me see what’s going on.
What was going on was the manager of the food court, Ms. V, as she’s affectionately known around ATL, was laid flat out on the ground. She had hit her head as she fell on the concourse and was completely unresponsive. At first it appeared as though a young woman was administering aid, but upon closer inspection, Patty realized that wasn’t quite the case.
“I looked at her as she was checking for a pulse … with her thumb,” Patty says. At that point, she knew she had to intervene. “I was like, uh-uh. I tapped her on the shoulder and said, ‘Step back, baby.’ Once I got down there and used my two fingers to find there was no pulse, I started chest compressions immediately.”
Because of airport security requirements, Patty had routinely carried a see-through bag to work, one that clearly displayed her bright orange resuscitation mask pack. A coworker had once jokingly asked her, “Why do you carry that?” Patty responded with her usual quick wit. “You never know, I might have to give you all mouth to mouth one day, and I ain’t putting my mouth on y’all,” she laughed.
As it turned out, the very same coworker who had questioned the contents of Patty’s purse happened to be standing feet away from Patty as she administered chest compressions. “Go get my purse,” she instructed between compressions. “Go get that orange thing out of my purse.”
Being at a busy airport full of passengers, it wasn’t long before a doctor and nurse came running over. The doctor used that orange mask to deliver breaths, while Patty and the nurse took turns delivering chest compressions.
Then the doctor turned to Patty and asked the million-dollar question: Do you know where to find the AED machine? As it turned out, Patty had been standing right next to it during that phone call with her mother.
Eventually Patty’s manager came looking for her. “I didn’t know you were gone saving a life!” she said to Patty. In fact, that’s exactly what she was doing — the paramedics showed up about 20 minutes later.
Soon after, Patty had a chance to catch up with Ms. V at the hospital where she was being treated for cardiac arrest. “I met her kids, I met her family, I prayed over her. She is good,” Patty says.
Then she reflected on her own experience. She had received her CPR certification while training to be a medical assistant, but worked nights at the airport while completing an unpaid internship. “When I graduated as a medical assistant, I was always asking myself what I was doing at the airport. It was for a reason. God had me there for that particular day, August 1, 2018. I will never forget that,” she says.
Today, Patty is an instructor who teaches American Heart Association curriculum to her community. “I never thought that I would be saving somebody at the airport. I never thought I would take those skills that I learned to help save someone,“ she says. “It’s good to know CPR. Even kids. I encourage kids to learn as well. I think everybody needs to learn.”
In the end, on that particular hot August morning, it turns out Patty wasn’t late at all. She was exactly where she was supposed to be, exactly when she was supposed to be there. “Now that I look at it, it was right place, right time,” Patty says. “Everything was right on time.”
Join a Nation of Heartsavers today at cpr.heart.org/heartsaver. #CPRwithHeart