Citizen-Airman's 'buddy care' training comes to the rescue
By Maj. Gabe Johnson, 162nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published July 22, 2010
TUCSON, Ariz. -- A systems engineer for Raytheon Missile Systems used first aid training he received as a member of the Arizona Air National Guard during a medical emergency to help a co-worker in distress June 17.
Capt. Humberto Nieto, an intelligence officer with the 162nd Fighter Wing here, says he's grateful for the self aid, buddy care (SABC) training he received as a member of the Guard - training that every Airman must complete every 24 months.
SABC encompasses basic life support and limb-saving techniques to help wounded or injured personnel survive in medical emergencies until medical help is available. The topics of SABC training encompass anatomy and physiology, airway management, recognition and control of bleeding, shock management, dressings, and burn injuries to name a few.
For Air Force members suffering medical emergencies or injuries due to accidents or combat, it's the basic life support training provided to their fellow Airmen that increases their chance of survival. For Caption Nieto, he never thought he'd have to use it in his civilian job.
"I was on a business trip to China Lake, California, with my team from Raytheon to test missiles with the F-18s there," said Nieto. "It was the least-likely situation I could imagine having to use my SABC training."
Nieto and his co-worker, Bill, a fellow engineer, were locked outside of a Raytheon facility on base. While waiting for someone to bring the building key Bill had a sudden loss of consciousness.
Standing on a handicap ramp at the building entrance, leaning on a waist-high hand rail, Bill dropped his cell phone; his body went limp and flipped backwards over the rail. His head hit the ground five feet below, his upper shoulders absorbed the shock and his body collapsed in a heap.
"I immediately went down to assess the situation," said the captain. "I tried to speak to him but he was unconscious. I could tell his skin color had changed... gone pale. He was trying to breathe. That's when my training kicked in. The first thing that came to mind was 'A-B-C, A-B-C,' the basic lifesaving steps an Airman uses to treat injuries. Just as we're taught in the Guard, I checked his airway, breathing, circulation, disability and exposure."
The victim's breathing and color quickly worsened and Nieto couldn't find a pulse. He began chest compressions and within 10 seconds Bill regained consciousness.
"He was really disoriented. I said, 'Bill stay down, you fell and were unconscious.' I was concerned about a possible neck injury."
Despite Nieto's urging to remain still, Bill sat up and leaned on the ramp.
"I called 911 and was giving the dispatch our information when Bill had another spell. He went lifeless and all the same symptoms came back. He went pale and his breathing became difficult, so I laid him back on the ground and started my A-B-Cs again," said Nieto.
Bill's symptoms were noticeably worse. His skin turned blue and the veins in his face were more visible than before.
"I told 911 that I needed to perform CPR again. I put the phone down and began chest compressions."
Just then two other Raytheon employees showed up with the key to the building. Nieto handed one the phone to relay information to 911, and had the other stabilize Bill's head.
"After a few seconds of compressions he came back again. His hands were clammy, his skin was cold, and I thought, 'Okay, now I have to treat him for shock.'"
Nieto told Bill to stay calm, help was on the way. This time, Bill didn't try to sit up.
"Three or four minutes later an ambulance arrived. He went to the hospital and everything turned out fine."
According to Nieto, Bill said he never experienced a health emergency like this before, and his health care provider in Tucson is working to assess his condition. Bill, whose name has been changed for his privacy, returned to work a few days later.
"You never expect to be in this kind of situation. Having gone through self aid, buddy care training in the Guard, I never realized how it would kick in naturally in an emergency," said Nieto.
In a note of appreciation to Captain Nieto, Bob Lepore, Raytheon Missile System's vice president of engineering, wrote, "I want to commend you on your quick response to helping Bill... you saved his life. We value employees that are there to pitch in and do whatever it takes during an emergency situation."
The captain encourages all wing members to review the SABC section of the Airman's Manual at least every six months. "The training is there for a reason, and it's good to know that it's there when you need it," he said.