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Flight crew members hailed as life savers

EDMONTON – Two quick-thinking flight crew members are being credited with saving a man’s life at the Edmonton International Airport (EIA) Wednesday afternoon.

They used an automated external defibrillator (AED) when the man collapsed after getting off his flight from Phoenix to Edmonton around 4 p.m. on Wednesday.

“We had a passenger who was coming off of a plane and had just entered the airport out of gate 66 and collapsed,” said Heather Hamilton, director of communications for EIA.

“He was in distress. And we had two very quick-thinking crew members, one from [U.S. Airways] and one from WestJet, who worked together to grab an AED, to do CPR. The device actually did administer one shock and really saved his life.”

“Based on the readouts on the machine, we can say with certainty, that’s an absolute save; he wouldn’t have survived without it.”

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Guy Fournier was one of those quick-thinking crew members. Fournier, a flight attendant with WestJet, says he was getting off the plane when he heard an alarm going off. After looking around, he knew the AED cabinet had been opened.

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“Right away I knew something was going on. So I dropped my bags and I ran over to him,” Fournier explained. “He was non-responsive.”

Elisa Ferrarin, a WestJet flight attendant who was getting off the same plane, says the unconscious man was then placed on the floor.

“They checked his vitals, again, he had no heart beat.”

“We lifted up his shirt, we attached the AED to him. The AED did its vital checks and right away advised a shock to be administered,” Fournier explained. “We administered the shock.”

After that, Fournier says the AED advised them to begin CPR. He says the U.S. Airways staff member did compressions while he administered the breath.

After about 30 compressions and two breaths, the man gasped for air and started to regain consciousness.

“He just kept trying to breathe. And then eventually his eyes opened and he came to and he started speaking,” Fournier said.

EIA’s fire crew was on scene within a few minutes, and the ambulance arrived a few minutes after that.  In that amount of time, the man’s condition had improved.

“Hearing the story, it’s surreal,” said the man’s daughter-in-law, Julie. “I’m so very, very thankful that the AEDs were there in the airport, that it happened at that time, that the staff who are trained to use them were there. I can’t even imagine if it had happened on the drive home.”

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“We have between 60 and 70,” said Hamilton, of the airport’s AEDs, “slowly adding more all of the time. Our goal is to have passengers be able to reach an AED within a minute to a minute-and-a-half. So they’re throughout the airport, and available for quick access.”

“If an individual dials 911, starts CPR and has an AED by the patient’s side within three minutes or less, chances of survival increase up to 75 per cent,” explained Mike Hoffman, with the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

Hamilton hopes people won’t be shy about using the defibrillator.

“They should absolutely take action right away,” she said. “You can’t hurt someone with an AED. It will not administer a shock if one is not required.”

“These defibrillators will not go off unless they need to, and they somehow know that,” said the man’s daughter Jill, who is staying in Edmonton while her father is in hospital. “It’s crazy. I don’t know enough about it, but I’m now a number one fan.”

“They’re user-friendly, even for someone who doesn’t even know what they’re doing,” she explained. “But we lucked out and had a WestJet crew who knew exactly what to do.”

AEDs provide audio prompts to direct people using them, and monitor the patient’s heart rate. It will only administer a shock if the heart requires one.

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READ MORE: Alberta mother raises defibrillator awareness in son’s memory

“They are foolproof. They walk you through every single step,” Fournier explained. “You can’t make mistakes with an AED.”

Fournier credits his training for his quick reaction Wednesday.

“That’s what we’re taught for. We go through five weeks of training when we initially start and every year you go through training,” he said. “Once it settled in and I found out how close he really was to either not making it or making it, I was just like ‘wow, our training really paid off.'”

He says having an AED nearby also helped save the man’s life.

“Thankfully that AED was there,” he said. “It just shows the importance of them.”

The family is very thankful to those who responded, and they realize the outcome could have been very different.

“I really, really want to thank the people,” stressed Julie. “We’re so happy that he’s doing well, that everybody worked together and the appropriate devices were there. It’s just amazing.”

“That’s why I’m sitting here,” said Jill, her voice breaking. “I just wanted to express our family’s gratitude. We got an early Christmas present and we’re so very grateful.”

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Jill’s father is still in hospital. She says he is “stable” and that tests are being run to try to determine what caused him to collapse.

And while the man’s family is extremely thankful, Fournier insists he was just doing what he was trained to do.

“I was hoping I’d never have to use the training. I hope I never have to use the training ever again. But thankfully it was there and I had that training.”

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“I’m just happy that the family is doing well. And that they are going to be together for the holidays.”