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AF retiree 'kissed by an angel'

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Joshua Stevens
  • 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
For nearly 43 years, one man has practiced a similar combination of cardio-centric workouts followed by relaxation time in the sauna, a routine which, for the most part, was fairly uneventful for the first 42 of those years. One morning in April, however, soon changed that.

"I usually walk about three miles every day, and I did just that April 28," said George Smith, retired Air Force technical sergeant and now city commissioner of Callaway, Fla. "I was wearing a sweat suit [on a near 80-degree day] for my walk, got back to the Tyndall gym and made my way to the sauna, like always."

Mr. Smith said he felt "pretty good" from his walk and also after the recommended maximum of 15 minutes in the sauna. So good, in fact, he decided to stay in a bit longer.

"I think I lost track of time," he said, "and I must have spent at least 25 minutes in there before I got out. I opened the door to walk toward the restrooms, and that's where my memory fades -- I blacked out."

As Mr. Smith collapsed, his head hit a garbage can and wall, causing a gash on the back of it, before he landed on the floor. A couple of people were in the immediate vicinity, but did not know what to do. By a stroke of luck, Gerald Swanson, retired Air Force chief master sergeant and now training analyst for Defense Support Services, LLC, heard the commotion and checked it out.

"I just happened to be in the locker bay," Mr. Swanson said. "When I first saw him, I thought he was on the floor stretching, oddly enough."

Once Mr. Swanson realized the gravity of the situation, he took action, using skills acquired from his four years of CPR and First Aid certification. Upon initial inspection, he felt no pulse and saw no response to visual stimulation. He then immediately began the CPR process after dialing 911 and handing the phone off to an observer.

"I tilted his chin, but when I tried to open his mouth, I couldn't because his muscles had tightened after hitting his head," said Mr. Swanson.

With only a narrow opening, Mr. Swanson had to "kiss" him to create a seal to deliver sufficient breaths. After three to four cycles of this and chest compressions, Mr. Smith finally revived, asking what had happened. Mr. Swanson simply said, "Hey buddy, you made it."

Members of the Tyndall Fitness Center staff, led by Lou South, fitness center director, gave moistened towels to Mr. Swanson. He then placed them on Mr. Smith's appendages and forehead, as well as a small portion of towel in his mouth to help with the dehydration.

Mr. Swanson had considered using an automated external defibrillator, but decided against it, noting it would have taken too long to make sure Mr. Smith was on a dry surface, due to the wet locker room floor and blood which had accumulated from his gash.

"I was very startled and panicked when I first came to," Mr. Smith said. "My memory starts coming back once the paramedics had already strapped me down to take me to the hospital."

At this point, Mr. Swanson saw him off, but had to return to work. He said the feeling he had after leaving the gym put him "on cloud nine."

Once in the hospital, Mr. Smith was relieved by his doctor who told him it was not a heart attack, just simple dehydration. He admitted he hadn't eaten or drank anything that day. The doctor also told him he was lucky for the gash, because if it hadn't opened, he may have had severe internal bleeding; it required three staples to fix. Finally, he was also told it could have been potentially fatal, had Mr. Swanson not intervened.

Regarding his intervention, Mr. Swanson offered advice to people who find themselves in emergency situations.

"Don't be bashful to help," he said. "Doing something is better than nothing. Never be afraid to get involved."

The two reunited some time later at Mr. Swanson's work where Mr. Smith thanked him for everything he'd done.

"Angels are all over the place," Mr. Smith said. "To me, [Mr. Swanson] was an angel that day. I believe God puts people in certain places to do his work. I do my walks on Tyndall, because I still feel I'm a part of the military family, as well as feel safe on base in case something happens. In my case something did happen, and I got the help I needed."

Editor's note -- Mark Hamilton contributed to this article.