Coast Guard officials aid apparent heart-attack victim

Officers administer CPR to unconscious man at intersection

Posted: Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Two off-duty Coast Guard officials possibly saved the life of an unidentified man who may have suffered from a heart attack Tuesday morning in the middle of a Mendenhall Valley intersection.

Photo Courtesy Of Jon-Paul Rios
Photo Courtesy Of Jon-Paul Rios

Juneau Station Chief Ryan O'Meara and Executive Petty Officer Robert Canepa were driving to work downtown at about 7:30 a.m. when they saw a middle-aged woman, who also was unidentified at press time, frantically waving her arms in the middle of the intersection of Mendenhall Loop Road and Stephen Richards Memorial Drive.

"We saw a car that was kind of sideways, just parked at a weird angle in the middle of the traffic lane," Canepa said. "And the lady was trying to get the attention of another car that was passing by."

According to O'Meara and Canepa, who were in the second car back, the first car stopped but then drove over the curb to get around the woman.

"At first we thought it was a hit and run," O'Meara said. "We were surprised the car didn't stop."

But it wasn't a hit and run. The woman told the officers her husband, who looked to be in his late 50s, was having a heart attack.

"Her husband was slouched over in his seat and was purple in face," O'Meara said.

After a quick assessment of the situation, O'Meara said the man had no pulse and wasn't breathing. The officers pulled the man out of the vehicle and carried him to the sidewalk in order to administer CPR.

"We just started doing what we do," O'Meara said. "You know, we train to do that stuff, so we just went into it."

After about a minute of CPR, the man started breathing again, but the going wasn't smooth.

"He started breathing, and then he would stop breathing again," Canepa said. "So we kept doing rescue breaths until units arrived. But he'd come in and out, breathe and stop breathing."

According to O'Meara, the man stopped breathing three or four times during approximately five minutes of CPR. In total, the officers aided the man for about 10 to 15 minutes before an ambulance arrived.

"It seemed like it was one minute, but it could have been 30 minutes long," O'Meara said. "Both of us probably lost our situational awareness at that point."

Luckily, they also had help from two good Samaritans: a woman who called paramedics and a local nurse who showed up in the last few minutes.

"The nurse did the head tilt chin lift so Canepa could do the rescue breaths and not have to worry about keeping his airway open," O'Meara said. "She was very helpful."

In attempts to get a progress report afterward at the hospital, O'Meara met the man's family.

"His granddaughters were there, and they came up and thanked us for saving their grandfather's life," O'Meara said. "And you know, I just hope it's saved."

Last O'Meara heard, the man was flown to Anchorage.

"I really hope the man lives," O'Meara said. "I think we definitely increased his chances, that's for sure."

• Contact Neighbors editor Kim Andree at 523-2272 or

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