UT Air Guardsman awarded for saving life of heart attack driver

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Lillian Harnden
  • 151 ARW/PA
Tech Sgt. Mike Paletta, a Utah Air National Guardsman from the 151st Security Forces Squadron, was awarded a Citizen Service Citation at the Salt Lake City Fire Department's 2012 Awards Banquet Nov. 3.

Paletta distinguished himself Jan. 26 by performing CPR to save the life of a driver who had suffered a heart attack.

On that day when Paletta, who is also an investigator for the Motor Vehicle Enforcement Division, was leaving work at the Utah State Tax Commission building, an employee burst through the front doors, spotted Paletta in uniform and shouted, "Emergency outside!"

Paletta called for emergency assistance as he charged to the aid of a complete stranger, who had rolled his car into the curb outside the Tax Commission building. Inside the locked vehicle, Paletta saw an unconscious elderly man convulsing.

"It looked like he was dying," said Paletta. "His hands were curling under and he was seizing, so I grabbed my baton and shattered the front-passenger window to unlock the doors."

A security guard from the Tax Commission office helped Paletta lay the victim on the ground. Then Paletta threw the car into park and turned the engine off before turning his attention back to the victim.

Unable to detect the victim's pulse or breath, Paletta initiated chest compressions. An onlooker ran back to the Tax Commission building to retrieve an automated external defibrillator (AED). Then Paletta's supervisor, Capt. Curtis Stoddard, arrived on scene and performed the chest compressions. Paletta then attached the defibrillator patches to the patient and turned on the machine.

"The defibrillator kept repeating, 'Patient needs to be shocked. Stand clear.'" said Paletta. "Then it told me to press the shock button, so I did. It didn't advise to perform any additional shocks, though. It told us to resume CPR, so that's what we did."

Stoddard resumed chest compressions as Paletta ran to his police car and retrieved a bag-valve mask for the patient. Soon after Paletta began rescue breathing for the patient, emergency workers arrived and quickly loaded the patient into the ambulance.

The patient's wife arrived on scene as he was being loaded into the ambulance. She was also an employee at the Tax Commission office, and her husband was coming to pick her up from work. Paletta offered to drive her to the hospital.

"I was at the hospital with the patient's immediate family when the heart doctor came out and told us that the patient needed heart surgery, but it looked promising that he would make it," said Paletta. "I was happy. His wife and family kept thanking me. I felt like I had been at a certain place at a certain time for a reason."

Paletta stated that it was the first time in his career he had ever performed CPR, used a defibrillator or saved a life.

Shane Moser, the firefighter paramedic with the Salt Lake Fire City Department who responded to the scene that day, and who submitted the awards package nominating Paletta, stated he believes the shock Paletta delivered saved the patient's life.

"It helps to have a rapid response," said Moser. "This is what makes the story so amazing from a bystander point of view. Most people don't know what to do or are afraid to do what needs to be done. Paletta acted. He performed a lot of critical actions that most people don't do. He broke into the car, performed CPR and shocked the patient with the AED. He went above and beyond and helped to save a life. Incidents of bystanders saving a life are few and far between, so when they happen it's worth some recognition."

According to Paletta, now more than nine months after the incident, whenever he encounters the patient's wife at the workplace she still tells him her husband is doing well.