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Carolyn Douglas, RN, a nurse for 43 years, recently helped save the life of a man at JFK airport.


For Carolyn Douglas, RN, the gate change for her departure flight from JFK International Airport was a minor inconvenience. For the passenger sitting behind her in the airport waiting area, it was a lifesaver.

Douglas and her husband, Earle, were recently awaiting a JetBlue flight to Bermuda at gate 5 in the airport, when they heard an announcement that their departure gate had changed to number 29.

They walked over and "for no real reason" sat in the waiting area for gate 28, said Douglas, a nurse on YNHH's Digestive Diseases/GI unit (Celentano 2). She was reading and heard a woman two rows behind her ask, "Are you alright?" Douglas turned and saw a man slumped in his chair with his eyes rolled back, having extreme difficulty breathing. Douglas ran over and learned from the man's wife that he had a history of cardiac issues.

"By then he had stopped breathing and had no pulse, so I told the people around me we needed to get him to the floor and open his airway," Douglas recalled.

She told JetBlue staff to get an automatic external defibrillator (AED), which, luckily, was right across the hall. While one person held the man's chin to keep his airway open, Douglas began performing CPR. Another nurse nearby who was awaiting a flight took over CPR while Douglas instructed JetBlue staff on attaching the AED, which delivered an electric shock to restore his pulse.

By the time Port Authority staff arrived with a stretcher, the man was starting to talk. His wife, who had remained calm throughout the incident, broke down, hugging Douglas and the other people who saved her husband's life.

Douglas doesn't know what ultimately happened to the man, but the incident convinced her that AEDs should be easily accessible in public areas. She is also thankful she was nearby – particularly because 20 minutes after the man was taken away, her departure gate was changed back to number 5.

"Every time I tell this story, I get chills," Douglas said. "Talk about the universe putting me in the right place at the right time."