Having the confidence to save a life outside the emergency room

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Austin J. Prisbrey
  • Kirtland PA

“I heard a breath--a gasp--leave his body,” said Master Sgt. Charles Phillips, 705th Combat Training Squadron superintendent. “There was no confidence in my body at that moment. I had to do CPR on this guy or he was not going to live.”

This was the situation unfolding at Virtual Flag Dec. 5, for Maj. Myles Cheatum, 552nd Air Control Wing plans and programs deputy director, who went into cardiac arrest while TDY to Kirtland for the exercise.

Virtual Flag was hosted by the 705th, also known as Distributed Mission Operations Center. As the emergency developed DMOC Airmen reacted.

Raymond Renfrow, Science Application International Corporation modeling and simulation engineer, heard Cheatum gasping for breath and immediately called for help. Phillips responded and started CPR on the patient after obtaining an automated external defibrillator. Phillips was joined shortly after by 1st Lt. Arthittiya Mongkolsombat, 705th CTS executive officer. Both Phillips and Mongkolsombat continued CPR while the lieutenant prepped the AED. The AED was used and CPR continued for seven minutes until first responders arrived and took over the scene.

“To be honest, I didn’t have time to think or process it,” said Mongkolsombat. “Literally as soon as I saw Phillips on the ground doing CPR compressions, instincts and adrenaline took over.”

In the heat of the moment, training took over, which ultimately saved a life.

“It makes me feel proud of my team,” said Phillips. “Everything went right. The training kicked in and we did everything in a timely manner. If we had hesitated even a couple minutes, he may have died.”

Thanks to the quick reaction time of Phillips and Mongkolsombat, Cheatum’s chances of survival increased and ultimately, his life was saved. According to the American Heart Association, immediate CPR can double or triple chances of survival after cardiac arrest and about 90 percent of people who experience an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest die. 

Cheatum was cleared for release from the VA Medical Center three days later and got to talk to the people involved in saving his life.

“They came and we discussed the incident,” said Cheatum. “My wife, mother and I thanked them profusely and we had a few laughs about it as they told their story. It was good to talk to such great Americans.”

As for the value of the training and equipment, Cheatum confirmed that it made the difference between life and death.

“I was very lucky that the training is there and that the individuals who received the training chose to act as quickly as they did,” said Cheatum. “I was very fortunate. Not everyone is.”

Mongkolsombat echoed his sentiments about the CPR/AED training courses.

“I’m glad that I took the CPR and AED training courses,” said Mongkolsombat. “When I took the courses, I didn’t think I was ever going to have use my training. I am very grateful and thankful that I took the class and that I was able to recall all the training that I took and implement it when it had to be done.”

Because of this life-saving experience, Phillips encourages more people to be AED trained.

“I think the AEDs should be readily available because something like this can happen to anybody at any time,” said Phillips. “This guy was 37 and in shape with no previous heart conditions.”

While Air Force base populations are young and healthy as a rule, Mongkolsombat said the experience reminded everyone the importance of being prepared for any medical emergency.

“I hope that this encourages more people to take the CPR/AED training and take it seriously,” said Mongkolsombat. “You will think that this will never happen to you, but you never really know when you are going to be needed to save someone’s life.”

According to Staff Sgt. Tichina Myers, 377th Medical Group NCOIC of Education and Training, being CPR/AED trained can keep people from being unprepared for an emergency.

“It’s very important to be trained in performing CPR and operating an AED,” said Myers. “You never want someone to be in that position, but it happens, and it’s never expected. The last thing I would want to be in that situation is helpless and unprepared.”

For those interested in attending the CPR/AED course, contact the 377th Medical Group Education and Training Office at 505-846-3522.