by Ann F. Skarban
302nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Staff Sgt. Christopher Whigham, an Air Force Reserve services apprentice, knew his training would expose him to real-world experiences, but he never expected his training would also lead to saving a life.
For Sergeant Whigham, Feb. 1 started out as a routine day for both him and the staff at Peterson’s Aragon Dining Facility where military members are served three-square meals a day. All that was on Sergeant Whigham’s mind was his last day of training in the dining facility before transferring to his next phase of training at Peterson’s base lodging.
“It started out as a normal Monday,” said Sergeant Whigham, who in his civilian job is a patrolman first class with the Albuquerque, N.M. police department. “I had been working in the dining facility for a few weeks. I was just finishing up with breakfast and walked back toward the kitchen when I saw personnel running and I could tell something serious was happening.”
At that point, the normal Monday turned into an emergency situation. A local bread delivery man had come to do his normal route, delivering products to the dining facility when the unthinkable happened.
“All I remember is someone said, ‘He had a heart attack.’ I looked down and saw [the bread delivery man] on the ground. It happened really fast.”
Airman Ross Belknap, another military member who had been working in the dining facility back room, was receiving the bread delivery with John Karagiannes, a civilian employee there. Both were the first to witness the delivery man collapsing. While Airman Belknap ran into the dining room to get help, Mr. Karagiannes called 9-11. Sergeant Whigham rushed to the delivery man’s side to help.
“I got down at his head and checked to see if he was breathing,” Sergeant Whigham said. “I checked for a pulse and someone said the word “CPR.” I ripped his jacket off and gave him two breaths. At that point I became very focused. I gave him a few rescue breaths.”
But Sergeant Whigham said the man remained unresponsive.
“There was nothing in his eyes. I gave him another set of compressions, maybe three rounds. That’s when he took a breath on his own. It was more of an involuntary breath. I kept going with the rounds, maybe six or seven rounds and his body was starting to kick in. It was all happening kind of fast. At that point, I heard the sirens in the background and knew the paramedics were coming. They came in and at that point, they brought in an automatic external defibrillator and pulse oximeter and took over.”
After getting him stabilized, the delivery man was carried on a back board to the ambulance by local paramedics. Later that day, the dining facility staff learned the man was awake and was moving his arms and legs.
Tech. Sgt. Rick Rayos, manager of the Aragon Dining Facility, said everyone working that morning did exactly the right thing and worked as a team to help save a life.
“Sergeant Whigham’s public service really took over,” Sergeant Rayos said. “It was very fortunate there were people around and, most importantly, that Sergeant Whigham was poised enough to conduct it (CPR). This young man performed well beyond the scope of his duties here. He was all about saving this man’s life.”
Sergeant Whigham is certified in CPR as part of his civilian police training. He also took part in additional CPR training while on his Reserve Annual Tour this past summer at Andersen AFB in Guam.
“This doesn’t happen very often,” said Sergeant Whigham. “I am glad I was able to be here and help – at the right place at the right time.”