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Heart attack at Sea-Tac: Medical student on tram saves passenger's life

A young Washington woman was able to successfully resuscitate her fellow tram passenger on Saint Patrick's Day.

SEATAC, Wash. — Seattle-Tacoma International Airport officials confirmed that a man who suffered a heart attack on their tram on Friday has survived.

As KING 5 has now learned, it may have been in large part due to the quick thinking of his fellow passengers, like 29-year-old Tara Fitzgerald, a medical student from western Washington.

"I kind of went right into EMS mode and knew what to do," Fitzgerald said.

She was able to help the man, who she estimated to be in his 40s.

"I looked over and there was a group of people kind of on the ground like helping somebody," Fitzgerald said. "And I have a lot of medical experience."

Fitzgerald worked as an ER tech for several years and as a volunteer firefighter at South Bay Fire Department in Olympia prior to that. 

"I immediately just kind of knelt down beside him, and just started doing my initial assessment," Fitzgerald said. "At that point, he was still breathing, but pretty quickly I realized he was deteriorating."

When she realized he "probably wasn’t breathing" any longer, she decided to start CPR on him.

Meanwhile, she asked one tram passenger to call 911, asked another to time her CPR compressions and asked a third person to tell somebody to stop the tram.

"It was so crazy because the train just kept moving from station to station," Fitzgerald said.

Then, she said a bystander handed her the airport's AED defibrillator device so she could resuscitate him.

"We gave him a shock and ended up doing one more round of CPR, and he started breathing on his own," Fitzgerald said. "I had some help with some people, and we lifted him up and carried him off, and if that moment, when we carried him off, we were almost off, and the firefighters got there."

Firefighters transported him to the hospital and she continued on to baggage claim, where she surprised her dad by coming home to Washington for his birthday.

"As parents, how does it make you guys feel?" a KING 5 reporter asked.

"Oh, so proud," her mother said. "We were already proud, but this is just a lot."

Fitzgerald said she believes the defibrillator is what ultimately saved his life.

Fitzgerald said this incident reinforced her confidence that she is on the right path in life. She is about to start clinical rotations in her physician assistant master's program at Rocky Mountain University in Utah.

She has not heard from the man since the day it happened, but she said she did hear that he made it to the hospital okay.

Her message to the community is this: "Don't be afraid to take a CPR class... we all kind of stand back and watch, and it's easy to say that somebody else will do it, but I think it's so important to just realize that you can be the one that actually does it."

Her parents could not be more proud of their daughter.

"It's a lot of study. It's a lot of hard work. She was an EMT through COVID out there, and I am-- just a brave, brave girl. Brave young woman."

"Well I'm just really fortunate that I was in that place at the right time," Fitzgerald said.

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