Tammy Dame was walking through the airport in Albuquerque Dec. 7 of last year to get a rental car when she noticed a group of people crowded around a collapsed man.
When she approached and inquired about what had happened, one of the bystanders said they thought the man was simply drunk and had passed out. Someone had placed a backpack underneath his head.
Dame, from Stacy, a nurse who works at Birchwood Senior Living in Forest Lake and Meadows on Fairview Assisted Living in Wyoming, knew the man was not suffering from the effects of imbibing too much alcohol.
“I’m like: ‘He is not drunk. He is practically dead. He’s gray,’” she said. “I could see he was gray, so I kept walking closer. I felt for a pulse, and I was like: ‘He is not drunk; I do not smell alcohol on him. I do not feel a pulse, so move out of my way. Get that backpack out of my way.’”
Dame had another bystander check his pulse, and that woman didn’t feel one either, so she started CPR.
Dame said some of the people who were crowded around the man but doing nothing to help him were giving her odd looks. Later, she realized her training had taken over, and she was actually teaching during this emergency situation.
“I said, ‘We want to keep going at the beat of ‘Stayin’ Alive,’” she said. “I kept singing that out loud. I think some of them thought I was nuts. But you know what? I was like, ‘You people need to learn.”’
Emergency medical service personnel, called by an airport worker, arrived just as Dame was about to start a second round of CPR. The combination of Dame’s lifesaving efforts and those of the EMS crew revived the man, who Dame later learned is 33-year-old Ryan Johnson.
Dame said she doesn’t look at herself as a hero.
“I’m a nurse,” she said. “That’s what I do for a living.”
Keeping in touch
Ryan, amazingly, has made a full recovery from his cardiac arrest. In a letter to the editor (read the full letter on page 4) Ryan’s parents, Mark and Paula, thanked everyone involved in saving their son, especially Dame, and noted it still hasn’t been completely ascertained why his heart stopped.
“Believe it or not, exactly one week after the cardiac arrest, we were all able to fly home with Ryan sporting a newly implanted defibrillator,” they wrote. “What absolutely continues to amaze us is that Ryan is fine — physically and cognitively. We have done research, and to have a ‘field save’ with a complete brain and physical recovery is a miracle. This can only be attributed to the talent and perseverance of the excellent first responders. (The doctors have classified the arrest as an idiopathic event — he is in excellent health, with the only abnormality being mitral valve prolapse, which should not have caused such an event; we’re hoping it will never happen again, but the defibrillator is in place if it does.)”
Dame said she spoke with Ryan about a month after the incident, she received a Christmas card from him and his wife in the mail, and she even got to meet his parents when they came to Minnesota June 8 for a visit.
“It was good to see them and meet them in person,” she said. “They’re so nice.”
She has a standing invitation to come and visit the Johnsons in California, and she plans to make the trip, especially since she hasn’t seen Ryan in person since that traumatic day at the airport.
“I can’t wait to go out and meet Ryan again in a different situation,” she said. “He’ll be standing up and conscious this time.”