By Lea Johnson
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Some people were snatching up Black Friday sales Nov. 25. Others were recovering from a Thanksgiving feast. Meanwhile, a group of Airmen and retirees on Peterson AFB were fighting to save one man’s life.
Tech. Sgt. Craig Thompson, 17th Test Squadron space operator from Schriever Air Force Base, and Andy Cathey, a retired Air Force medic, were playing racquetball when they heard a loud thud from the next court over.
“You hear guys run into walls all the time and it’s no big deal, but the thud that we heard, we knew something had happened,” Thompson said.
Thompson and Cathey went over and saw another man collapsed on the floor. Initially they thought a head injury was the cause of the accident, but quickly discovered the man had suffered a heart attack on the racquetball court.
“I squatted down by his side and it looked like he was trying to breathe,” Cathey said. “I was trying to maintain an open airway. I kept adjusting his head.”
Eventually, the man’s breathing completely stopped and he lost all signs of having a pulse. “Andy (Cathey) started in on the chest compressions and I did the rescue breathing,” Thompson said.
“I have a lot of real world experience performing CPR but this was the first time I had to do it on somebody I know,” Cathey said. “I was really stressed.”
Tech. Sgt. Porter Gee, fitness center noncommissioned officer in charge, brought in the automated external defibrillator, ran an assessment and administered one shock. It had only been about 10 minutes when the fire department came on scene and took over.
“They were doing a great job. They already had the AED hooked up so it made our job a lot easier,” said Staff Sgt. Luis Mendiola, Engine 9 crew chief.
Mendiola’s team administered two more shocks and continued the CPR that Thompson and Cathey started. Then, there was a surprise. “He was starting to mumble, starting to blink his eyes. We started to see things we normally never see on scene,” Mendiola said.
Mendiola estimates that the man had no heartbeat for anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes. Usually after eight to 10 minutes, even if a person is revived, there is irreversible brain damage.
When the American Medical Response arrived on scene, the man was responsive and was ready to be taken to the hospital where doctors would stabilize him and make sure a second heart attack didn’t occur.
“He called me and thanked me,” Thompson said. “He said that the doctors told him that he was brain dead for 18 minutes and that our early efforts are the only reason he’s alive.”
Mendiola agrees that if it weren’t for the quick response and knowledge of those on the racquetball court, the story could have a completely different ending. From starting CPR, to getting the AED hooked up, to calling 911, everyone played an important role.
“More people should become involved with CPR or at least learn the basics,” Cathey said. “The intent of CPR is to give that guy a fighting chance and I think we certainly did that.”
Despite their actions, the group shies away from being called heroes. “I see us just as good wingmen,” said Gee. “We did what pretty much anyone would do. I did what was expected.”