Bystander Renders Aid in Busy Restaurant

By Gina Mayfield

Friday nights for Israel Rodriguez and his family often involve winding down the workweek at a local restaurant. On one cold winter night in late January, they decided they were in the mood for Italian and headed to one of their favorite places. Just as they started to dig into appetizers, Israel sensed that something didn’t seem quite right with the family at the table directly across from them.

“I noticed the lady starting to panic. She’s patting her husband on the back, and she’s got this really worried look on her face. She gets up, starts trying to cry for help but can barely get the words out, then she seemed really afraid,” Israel says. The couple’s two little girls just sat at the table in shock. ”I pictured my family in that situation, if that were me,” Israel says, and he immediately got up to help.

“As soon as I started to walk over there to check on the man, his head hit the table,” Israel says. So Israel rushed over and started abdominal thrusts. On about the fourth thrust, what may have been a piece of ice dislodged from the man’s throat. He looked up at Israel and asked, “What’s going on? What happened?” He had completely lost consciousness.

What happened was that in a busy Italian restaurant with a Friday night crowd, only Israel rushed in to help. No one else stepped up, not even the manager or waitstaff. No one called 911. Lucky for Lee, the survivor, Israel had just completed a CPR & First Aid refresher course as a volunteer in the children’s ministry at his church. He and his wife had been taking life-saving courses for years.

Things settled down that night after the rescue, and Israel checked on Lee’s wife and children and made sure they were all okay. Lee’s family stayed and had their dinner — and bought Israel’s meal too.

In this day and age, Israel says that in an emergency people sometimes first think of recording an event, rather than rendering aid. “But a social media post isn’t going to help anybody in a life-threatening situation,” he says. “That was one of the things that really stood out to me about that night. If I hadn’t helped Lee, I don’t know if he would have had any help.”

Looking back, Israel also thinks about fully trained bystanders who have taken CPR courses, yet still hesitate to act because they’re afraid of hurting the victim. “It’s either you do something and give that person a chance, or do nothing and let them die. Step into action and increase their odds,” he says.      

That’s exactly what Israel did on that fateful Friday. Months later, he and Lee are still in touch. Lee reached out on Father’s Day, a holiday that undoubtedly meant a little more this year, especially to Lee’s two little girls who were with him in the restaurant. “It could have gone an entirely differently way that night,” Israel says.

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Heart-Saving Hero, Not an Average Joe

By Gina Mayfield

On an unseasonably warm evening in rural Maryland, Joe Greco hosted a small cookout for his son Joey’s friend Alex and his dad, John. After dinner, all four guys played a little basketball in preparation for upcoming high school tryouts before the boys headed inside.

Joe and John remained outside, just standing around talking about sports and life, when John said, “You know, I’m starting to feel … .” Those were his last words before he collapsed, and Joe caught him midway down to the concrete floor of the garage.

“Initially, I thought he was having a seizure,” Joe says. “He’s breathing very heavily, his eyes are rolling back in his head and he was convulsing a little bit. Then, all of sudden, he stops breathing.” At that point, Joe ran inside where he instructed his son to call 911 and John’s son to run down the 400-foot driveway to wave in first responders.

Survivor John Holschuh & Heartsaver Joe Greco

Joe started administering CPR – chest compressions and mouth to mouth breathing. John would take a few breaths, then stop breathing again. Joe continued CPR, only stopping to clear vomit from John’s mouth.

Soon enough, Joey ran into the garage with a 911 dispatcher on the line. “She was coaching me, helping me with the timing, she was really just a nice support and comfort,” Joe says. Eventually, she asked him just to focus on chest compressions, but nothing seemed to help.

About that time a local volunteer fireman who had heard the 911 call on the scanner appeared in the garage. “He told me to keep doing what I was doing,” Joe says. About 10-15 minutes after the 911 call went out, EMTs arrived on the scene and shocked John with the defibrillator. Still, not much of a response.

“I remember holding my son’s hand, holding Alex’s hand, in my garage – the three of us saying prayers and yelling to John to fight, to work, to give him encouragement to stay with us,” Joe says. Paramedics used the defibrillator one more time and got a pulse, then quickly transported John to a local hospital with Joe and Alex right behind them.

John’s wife, Dawn, and other family members met them there. Joe returned home and got a call from Dawn around 10 p.m. to let him know that John was in a medically induced coma and they weren’t really sure what his outcome would be. If he didn’t come to within the next three days, they would have some difficult decisions to make.

The next morning, Joe got another phone call. On the other end of the line was Dawn, who said, “There’s someone here who wants to talk to you … .” It was John. The first thing he said was, “Did the old guys beat the young guys in basketball?” He had fought through that coma with his sense of humor still intact.

“The crazy thing is that none of the doctors are quite sure why John had a heart attack,” Joe says. “He’s in very good shape, takes care of himself. He’s an athlete, eats well, he’s not overweight, has no previous history of heart problems. Other than a defibrillator that’s been implanted in his shoulder, they basically told John to go live his normal lifestyle.”

Looking back, Joe says John’s not the only fortunate one. “The company I work for provides first aid and CPR training every two years,” he says. “We’re just very blessed that we had the outcome that we did, because if we didn’t, I know I would have been impacted greatly. One of the things that kept going through my head the whole time was that I wasn’t going to let those two boys witness something tragic. I was giving John everything I had. It was the scariest situation I’ve ever been in my life, but without the training, it would have been worse. I can’t imagine being there, not being able to do anything and feeling helpless, not being able to offer aid to someone who obviously needed it.”

Eventually, things settled down and life got back to normal. After a few phone calls, Joe and John had an emotional reunion while they waited outside during their sons’ basketball tryouts. Both boys made the team, and before a game the coach gave Joe a signed photo of the squad during a presentation to honor his heroic efforts. Of course, he insisted on John and the boys being included too.

“If it wasn’t for that training, if it wasn’t for the teamwork between the two boys helping me, the 911 operator coaching me, the great work that the local EMS team and the doctors at the hospital did, John wouldn’t be with us, and his family would be in a much different position,” Joe says. “I’m incredibly grateful that when a friend needed help, I was able to help him.”

WATCH this story featured by American Heart Association Baltimore & Greater Maryland.

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Massachusetts 911 Dispatcher Provides Over-the-Phone CPR Instructions to Save a Life

On a quiet Sunday morning at the Regional 911 Dispatch Center in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, dispatcher Tara Jones-Nutting answered a call: “911, where’s your emergency?”

The caller, a man named Adam, didn’t know. How could he? Miles deep into a bike ride in the Berkshire woods, he and a friend, Robert, had just glanced back to check on a third buddy only to find him on the ground in full seizure. “We have a very serious emergency,” Adam told Tara, who used geocoding to send professional help. “I don’t know how to do CPR,” Adam said, “please send this ambulance quickly.”

Tara knew they were in a very rural area. “There’s not a lot of house numbers. It’s a back country road, there’s no mile markers, there’s nothing,” she says. “I can clearly remember listening to the man on the ground breathe. I’ve been an EMT since I was 18 years old, twentysomething years, and I instantly recognized the agonal respirations. I told Adam, I’m going to give you instructions on how to do CPR.”

Massachusetts requires all 911 dispatchers to be trained in CPR. Tara’s dispatch center uses the American Heart Association’s Basic Life Support and Heartsaver First Aid programs to deliver its training. And while dispatchers also have access to CPR instructions, Tara had the added benefit of having taught CPR classes.

And so it began. “Kneel by his side and put the heel of one hand in the center of his breastbone … .” After more than 70 compressions, Adam said, “We got something!” The victim began to take big gasping breaths on his own — then stopped breathing. Tara directed them to start five rounds of 30 compressions, followed by two breaths, and explained how to check for breathing — all while encouraging them.

About 14 minutes in, the local fire chief and his daughter, who’s an EMT, arrived on scene, followed by another officer, an ambulance and eventually a helicopter that flew the victim to Massachusetts General Hospital. “You guys did a good job, I’m going to disconnect,” Tara told them, not knowing if she’d ever hear the end of the story.

But later in the day, a paramedic who was in the ambulance called the dispatch center for some statistics. He happened to be an old friend of Tara’s from back in her days as an EMT. So she asked about the call, assuming the victim didn’t make it. “No, he did,” her friend told her. He wasn’t a victim, he was a survivor.

Later, Adam contacted the dispatch center to provide an update. When Tara worked up the courage to talk to him, she said, “Hi, this is Tara from Berkshire County.” He replied, “I’ll never forget your voice.”

Looking back, Tara says she’s talked to people she’s helped revive and save before, but this was different. “I wasn’t there to physically do it, so I had to use my voice and their hands as my hands to get them to do what I needed them to do. This was a whole new, different situation for me.”

She uses an analogy to explain how she approaches teaching someone CPR over the phone. “Imagine walking someone through how to tie a shoe when that person doesn’t even know what a shoe is — and you’ve got your back turned to them. So providing very, very basic, step-by-step instruction — finding the midpoint on the chest, doing the compression and making sure they’re doing it accurately.”

Rescuers Adam & Robert instructed on how to perform CPR to save a friend’s life by 911 dispatcher Tara.

Weeks after this incident the survivor hosted a luncheon for all of the first responders, including Adam, Robert and Tara. “It was just such an amazing thing to see him standing there,” Tara says. “There were a lot of tears that day.”

As it turned out, Adam had taken a single CPR class many years ago. “It’s just so important to have that base level of knowledge, just so that CPR isn’t completely foreign to you when you need it,” Tara says. “I stand firm in the fact that I did nothing that day, those two gentlemen that were with him are the heroes at this call, because if they weren’t willing to do what they did, he would not be here.”