Hanscom employee saves life

  • Published
  • By Mark Wyatt
  • 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs
After two hours of playing tennis at a local tennis club in Manchester, Mass., on Wednesday nights, Joel Rodriguez normally just goes home. However, earlier this month he decided to stay and have a beverage with other players.

Rodriguez, who has only been playing in this men's league since early this year, remarked to the group how the New England Patriots had played poorly against the Kansas City Chiefs two nights earlier.

"All of a sudden this gentleman in front of me in his early 60s, who is a great athlete and in great shape, starts holding his chest and making choking sounds," he said, noting that he and others thought the sounds were related to his comments on the Patriots. "All of a sudden he just drops back on the floor and turns purple."

Thinking the man was having a heart attack, Rodriguez began performing CPR on him.

"He wasn't responding ... he was making all of these incredible choking noises, his eyes were open wide and he was getting more and more purple," said Rodriquez, who had taken CPR classes many years earlier. "I just continued with the compressions and at this point I wasn't even doing the one-one thousand, two-one thousand compression rhythm -- I'm basically panicking."

Told by onlookers that the new protocol for CPR was continuous chest compressions with no more mouth to mouth, he continued this for several minutes.

Exhausted after about eight minutes of CPR, and close to asking for relief, he said the man whom he had met only a month earlier, went lifeless.

"He stopped making those horrible sounds and his eyes had rolled to the back of his head - nothing but the whites of his eyes were visible," Rodriguez recalled. "At this point I was thinking, 'Please God, don't let this man die.'"

He started to frantically pound harder, "then he just came back ... he just came back."

By this time, several employees of the club and a large crowd of others had gathered nearby watching the scene unfold when paramedics arrived. The man, who had lain lifeless only seconds before, sat up and indicated he wanted to go home.

"I have learned since that when CPR only is performed on a patient without the aid of an AED [Automated External Defibrillator], patients have a less than three percent chance of survival," Rodriguez said. "There was an AED there, but I wasn't thinking about that at the time. I was thinking only in the moment, about the need to perform CPR right then."

About 30 minutes after the man first fell back, and as an exhausted Rodriguez was leaving to go home, he saw paramedics place the patient in an ambulance and drive away, only to stop quickly a few moments later.

"The next day I was told that he had another cardiac arrest while in the ambulance," Rodriguez said, learning later that the man actually had a cardiac arrest where his heart just stopped beating, and not an actual heart attack.

Rodriguez also found out that while at Beverly Hospital the man had two more cardiac arrests in the emergency room, so in less than one hour he endured four cardiac arrests in total.

"It was a great gift for me to have been able to be there to help him," Rodriguez said. "During the entire time I was performing CPR, I got this incredible adrenaline rush and everything around me was mute, but I was very cognizant of what was happening under me."

Rodriguez said the man is doing well and has returned to work and is even planning to return to playing tennis soon. He also acknowledged the two now have a tremendous bond.

When asked which was the better workout, two hours of tennis or eight minutes of saving this man's life, an emotional Rodriguez said that it was an incredible workout physically, but emotionally, the feeling of saving another man's life is indescribable.

When reflecting back on the experience, and in offering advice to those who might find themselves in a similar situation, he said, "Do something quickly." Admitting that it took a few moments to process what was happening, he added that those moments could be critical in whether the outcome is the same.

He also suggests knowing where an AED is located in a public facility.

"Sometimes we're in certain places for reasons that we're not able to explain," he said. "It's a blessing for me to see him doing so well today and knowing that I had a small part in that."