Save Date: 11/19/1998
November 19, 1998, started off as a terrific day for me. A few days earlier I had submitted my request for early retirement from Boston Public Health Commission. It was a week before Thanksgiving and I was about to fly to California to visit my daughter. As a nurse administrator, she was going to a conference in Los Angeles and I decided to join her so as to visit our daughter who lived there.
I was really looking forward to the next few weeks: a few days vacation, return for Thanksgiving, a few weeks of work before the holidays and then retirement. And so it was with these thoughts I boarded American Airlines flight 11 Boston to LA. It was an uneventful, pleasant takeoff. The plane had plenty of room so my wife and I were able to share an empty seat between us. I watched the movie "Armageddon" while my wife took a nap.
At the conclusion of the movie, there was a little movement about the plane as people, including my wife, stretched, walked about the plane and freshened up. When she returned to her seat she wanted to put her feet up on my lap. Initially I brushed them off and we were both being playful.
Then suddenly she realized I was not responding. Initially Dolo thought I was play acting (which I often times do) but when she could get no reaction, and noticed my face had lost all expression, she became alarmed. She called out for help while trying to ring for the flight attendant. Within seconds, Kevin Dunn, a flight attendant, was by our side and with Dolo's help lowered me to the aisle of the aircraft. There they started a two person CPR, Kevin at my head, Dolo pounding on my chest. Unfortunately, they were unable to get a pulse.
Dolo, at this point being desperate, called to the passengers and crew to pray for me. At this point another flight attendant brought the automated external defibrillator (AED) that had been placed on the aircraft two days previously. They proceeded to shock me. The first three attempts proved fruitless. On the fourth attempt, I responded.
I was totally disoriented, agitated and combative, but I was alive and breathing. The aircraft made an emergency landing in Denver, Colorado, where I was transported to the University Hospital. There I was checked out, given a complete workup and found not to have any physical damage as a result of the incident.
Because of the quick response of the flight attendants and the availability of the AED, I am fortunate not only to be alive, but also to be in good health. This incident being the first "save" in flight drew national attention for the need of wide distribution and easy access to AEDs in public places. I have been fortunate to speak to many audiences including legislators, business leaders, emergency responders and volunteers for the American Heart Association.
I learned on November 19, 1998 that I was safer 35,000 feet in the air than I was in my own home. In October 2003, I am still working on getting everyone as safe in his or her home, place of work, worship and recreation as I was in the air November 19.