Quick thinking saves Tinker man’s life

  • Published
  • By Mike W. Ray
  • Tinker Public Affairs
If Tech. Sgt. Keith Hagins, Officer Aaron Whitehead, Rodney Walker and Cheryl Sweeney had not been where they were the morning of June 18, Robert Cain might have died.
Their spontaneous reactions saved Mr. Cain's life when seconds were critical to his survival after a heart attack he suffered while in Bldg. 3001.

Later, Col. Steven Bleymaier, 72nd Air Base Wing commander, praised their "heroic, quick-thinking and professional" performance. So did Mr. Cain. "I am very fortunate and grateful for the great response provided to me by our Tinker employees," he said Tuesday upon his return to work in the 544th Propulsion Maintenance Squadron.

That day, a Monday, started no differently than any other for the five.

Tech. Sgt. Hagins and Officer Whitehead are members of the 72nd Security Forces Squadron.

Mr. Walker and Ms. Sweeney, along with Mr. Cain, work in the 544th Propulsion Maintenance Squadron. Ms. Sweeney has been a Tinker employee for 30 years; she works alongside Mr. Cain as his scheduler in the F100 Compressor area. Mr. Cain is the supervisor of the Compressor Disk and Air Seal cell, and Mr. Walker is the supervisor of the Compressor Assembly and Disassembly cell.

Shortly after 9 a.m. on June 18, "I heard a mechanic hollering," Mr. Walker recalled. "I turned to look and noticed that Robert was on the floor, and his face was turning blue. I knelt down next to him and checked; he wasn't breathing and had no pulse."

Ms. Sweeney had been out on the shop floor, checking for parts, and was headed back to her desk when, "I saw Robert lying on the floor." Immediately she yelled for Mr. Walker. "He waved the 'phone at me to let me know he was on the line with 9-1-1."

Ms. Sweeney rushed over and took the 'phone from Mr. Walker, who began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on Mr. Cain while Ms. Sweeney gave the dispatcher their location in Bldg. 3001. "Then I went to flip the emergency switch, and got a mechanic to watch for an ambulance," Ms. Sweeney said.

The emergency switch activates a flashing white light designed to help emergency responders find a specific location inside the mammoth building. "There are several emergency lights down the aisles, located about every 100 feet throughout the industrial area," Ms. Sweeney noted.

Meanwhile, Sergeant Hagins and Officer Whitehead started their work shift by riding through family housing, the base golf course and the Base Exchange. "Before we left that morning, our supervisor said, 'Make sure you head up to 3001,'" Officer Whitehead remembered.

They unloaded their bicycles from the back of their 72nd SFS pickup and set out on what was expected to be a routine patrol through the enormous maintenance building.
Within minutes after starting their patrol, Sergeant Hagins and Officer Whitehead "apparently saw me running to the emergency switch," Ms. Sweeney said, because they asked her whether she needed any help. They "followed me back to the pod and took over from there."

At the pod, the two SFS officers found Mr. Walker performing "rescue breathing" on Mr. Cain. Officer Whitehead assisted Mr. Walker by performing chest compressions on Mr. Cain; Sergeant Hagins radioed SFS headquarters that emergency medical personnel were needed on the scene urgently; and Mr. Walker sent four employees to retrieve Automated External Defibrillators.

Mr. Cain was "unresponsive" at the time, Sergeant Hagins says. While Officer Whitehead performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation, Sergeant Hagins lifted Mr. Cain's legs "to get some blood to his head," and talked to their patient. "I kept telling him, 'Don't leave us, Robert! Don't leave us!'" Apparently Mr. Cain heard the plea, because every so often he would gasp for air, the sergeant said.

Midwest City emergency medical technicians soon arrived and took over from Sergeant Hagins, Officer Whitehead and Mr. Walker. The two SFS officers led the EMTs out of the building, other Security Forces personnel guided them through a Tinker gate, and Mr. Cain was transported to the Midwest City hospital.

Officer Whitehead said he applied electric shock to Mr. Cain's chest with the AED paddles at least three times in Bldg. 3001, and he heard later that shock was applied twice more in the ambulance.

Mr. Cain had already suffered one heart attack before the latest incident. Nevertheless, he was walking short distances, with assistance, by June 21, and was discharged from the hospital on June 23, said Mr. Walker, who looks upon Mr. Cain as his mentor as well as his friend.

"It's good to hear he's back at work," Sergeant Hagins said.

"It was just by the grace of God that we were all where we were that day," said Officer Whitehead.

Also helpful was the fact that Mr. Walker, Ms. Sweeney, Sergeant Hagins and Officer Whitehead all have had CPR training.

Mr. Walker got his training while working as a police officer for four years in Southwestern Oklahoma, and while assigned to the 97th Air Mobility Wing at Altus AFB; he came to Tinker in December 2010. Sergeant Hagins has been in the Air Force for 18 years, all of it in Security Forces. Officer Whitehead spent four years in the Marine Corps and has been a civilian employee of the 72nd SFS for almost three years. All SFS officers are trained in CPR and First Aid.

It also helped that all four responders reacted reflexively and instantaneously. "We knew exactly what to do," Sergeant Hagins said. "I had an adrenaline rush afterward."

Mr. Walker said Mr. Cain had had the foresight to leave in his work area a piece of paper that listed all medications he was taking, the dosages and the number of times a day he took those medications, a list of his next of kin and their telephone numbers. That list came in handy because his wife and daughter were visiting relatives in Florida when he collapsed.

Mr. Walker urged everyone to take CPR training. Many people are afraid that if they get involved when someone is injured or has a heart attack, they may contract a communicable disease or will be open to a negligence lawsuit if the victim takes a turn for the worse. Oklahoma has a so-called "Good Samaritan" law that provides protection from litigation of that type, he said.

Mr. Walker also said certification is not required to use an AED. "The device talks you through the process and will not deliver an electrical shock if one isn't required."