What was supposed to be a relaxing holiday at home for Lt. Col. Joshua Sean Curtis, Air Force Medical Operations Agency electronic health record branch chief and his wife, Anne, a nurse practitioner, ended up being one of the most stressful positions for any medical professional – resuscitating a dying man.
“I never thought, on Presidents Day, in the early afternoon, that I’d suddenly be giving mouth-to-mouth to a man dying of a heart attack,” Curtis said. “But there I was.”
Curtis was out for a walk near his home, just after lunchtime, when he noticed the woman who runs a nearby grounds-keeping company calling for help. She was bent over, cradling one of her employees – an elderly man who was convulsing and gasping on the grass next to the sidewalk.
As an Air Force Medical Service Corps officer, Curtis describes himself as a “business-type” medic who doesn’t usually treat patients directly. On that day, as Curtis raced over to the scene, his life-saving instincts kicked in.
“The man was turning grey, gasping for air,” Curtis said. “His eyes were turning pale and staring off into the distance like he had no idea we were even there.”
Curtis quickly took charge of the situation. His first spotted a young girl nearby with a cell phone walking her dog. He instructed her to call 911 and remain on the phone until an ambulance arrived.
Then he called out to Anne to help him. Anne, 28 weeks pregnant at the time, was able to dash outside and assessed the man’s vitals.
Both Curtis and Anne are CPR certified, and that training proved invaluable, Curtis explained.
“We found no pulse, so Anne started chest compressions and I started mouth to mouth,” Curtis said. “It was really odd. It never really crossed my mind that I was mouth-on-mouth with this older man, giving him breaths. It was just muscle memory.”
When emergency responders arrived on the scene shortly after, the man was still unconscious, but gasping reflexively as if his body was still fighting, Curtis recalled. The EMS team put an automated chest compression device on the patient, and transported him in the ambulance.
Later on Curtis found out from the emergency room provider that the man would have died had Curtis and his fellow helpers not administer aid so quickly.
“To this day, the man has no memory of what happened, but he is alive, living his life,” Curtis added. “But when you’re talking about a heart attack, that’s probably a good thing to forget.”
To this day, the Airman credits his wife as equally responsible for the man’s survival, chalking up the event as a victory for “Team Curtis.”
Curtis ultimately credits his CPR training as the deciding factor in the man’s survival.
“It was a surreal experience to be in that situation, and literally have it just click into place, and know what you’re supposed to do because you’ve practiced (CPR) over and over and over.”
Even though the encounter lasted a few minutes, Curtis hopes he never has a similar experience again. He recommends every person with the time and resources become CPR certified.
“You never hope to have to use CPR,” Curtis said. “But to have that knowledge, that ability on tap, was just a really rewarding experience. That man was saved by the CPR training that we had.”