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June 4, 2011

Firefighter, son, save woman at Nev. airport

By Sean Emery
The Orange County Register

SANTA ANA, Calif. — Life-saving became a family affair for a Santa Ana fireman and his son, who leapt into action after a fellow airline passenger went into cardiac arrest in a Las Vegas airport.

The incident occurred during a layover at McCarren International Airport on May 15, while John Gammon and his family were returning from his son Jordan's graduation from Northwestern College in Iowa. As they waited for a flight, Gammon's wife noticed a young woman lying on the ground several feet from them, between rows of chairs.

Quickly determining that the woman was in cardiac arrest, John Gammon alerted Jordan, an aspiring firefighter who finished an emergency medical technician course only days earlier.

"I was impressed watching him, because he engaged and just went right to it," John Gammon said. "Sometimes, we even get guys who are trained firemen who hesitate for a second, but he jumped right in."

As John raced through the airport searching for an automatic external defibrillator, Jordan put his newly learned lifesaving techniques to work, taking over CPR compressions on the woman.

"Three days before that, I had been tested on it," Jordan Gammon said. "It was a little stressful, but my training took over."

"He took the real test," added Jim Larson, a Santa Ana firefighter and paramedic who had given Jordan advice during his EMT course.

A doctor also awaiting a flight arrived to help, with an airport employee locating a defibrillator. The device analyzed the woman's heart rhythm and delivered a single shock, at which point the rescuers found a pulse.

Clark County firefighters arrived soon after, taking the woman to a hospital.

She had to undergo open-heart surgery but appears to be doing well, John Gammon said. Authorities believe the 33-year-old woman had a pre-existing condition that was exacerbated when she exerted herself while running to catch a flight.

Fire officials say the key to saving the woman's life was the speed of the emergency response, with CPR started within 30 seconds, the first shock within five minutes and paramedics arriving within 10 minutes.

"For every minute that someone is in cardiac arrest, they lose approximately seven to 10 percent chance of surviving, depending on their age and pre-existing conditions," Larson said.

For Jordan, the rescue was a reminder of why he wanted to become a firefighter, following in the footsteps of his father and both grandfathers. While studying at Northwestern, Jordan also worked for a volunteer fire department, responding on a variety of medical aids and fire calls.

"I enjoy helping people, and it's always interested me," Jordan Gammon said. "Being able to help this lady was a blessing."

Fire officials say the incident was also a reminder of the importance of CPR training and the use of automatic external defibrillators, which are available in many public gathering spaces, including all fire stations in Santa Ana.

"Even if there is not an AED, just those compressions alone give that patient a chance," Santa Ana fire Capt. Ben Gonzales said.

Copyright 2011 Orange County Register
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