FOXBORO — Two off-duty firefighters, who went to Gillette Stadium to see the Patriots play the Jets on Christmas Eve, got a lot more excitement than expected at the game when they heard a man a few rows in front of them yell “dad, what’s wrong?”
The answer to that question was a heart attack, and officials say the 61-year-old victim was lucky two well-trained first-responders were nearby.
Westford Firefighter/Paramedic John Tuomi and Groton fire Lt. Jim Crocker, who met and became friends at the firefighting academy, were at the game Saturday afternoon when they heard a man call out to his father just a few minutes before kickoff.
Tuomi said a man and his father were two rows in front of him and a bit to the left.
“I looked at him and could immediately tell something was seriously wrong,” Tuomi said.
Tuomi and Crocker got the victim out of his chair and onto the ground, and quickly realized he had no pulse.
Tuomi and Crocker began CPR as they asked others in the area to notify emergency crews and look for an automated external defibrillator.
While both men typically have lots of medical equipment when they’re on the job, this time they had nothing more than music blaring through loudspeakers and lots of commotion surrounding them.
Someone arrived with an AED and Tuomi and Crocker began using it as a police officer arrived and took over CPR, according to Tuomi. They briefly got the man’s pulse back with the AED before losing it, and then got it back again as an EMS crew arrived.
Tuomi estimated it was only 10 minutes between the time they noticed the problem and the time the EMS crew arrived.
“They got him out of there pretty quickly,” Tuomi said.
Both men then settled in to watch the game with the 61-year-old still in the back of their minds.
The Patriots had the game well in hand by halftime, and there was even more good news as Tuomi and Crocker went to the medical tent and learned the man regained consciousness before he left the stadium.
The Patriots went on to thump the Jets 41-3, but it wasn’t until Monday that Tuomi and Crocker learned the victim made a full recovery.
“It’s very rare in our profession to actually do CPR and have a positive outcome like this,” Crocker said.
Stacey James, a spokesman for the Patriots, referred questions to Foxboro Fire Chief Roger Hatfield, who oversees emergency crews at the stadium, but said the team’s management is aware of the incident.
Hatfield said he called his fellow chiefs in Westford and Groton to praise both men.
“One of the great things about firefighters is that they’re firefighter paramedics 24/7,” Hatfield said. “Their willingness to get involved and engage in CPR immediately had a lot to do with saving this gentleman’s life.”
Hatfield said the victim was in full cardiac arrest, but that medical teams at the stadium, which include a doctor from Brigham & Women’s Hospital, were able to bring him back before he even got to an ambulance.
State police then helped clear the roads for an ambulance that rushed the man to Norwood Hospital.
“I’m told he’s doing very well and was sent home (Monday),” Hatfield said. “I just can’t say enough about those firefighters and the rest of our team.”
Crocker said he never thought about staying seated when he realized someone needed help.
“We get into the job to help people, and that doesn’t leave you when you clock out,” Crocker said.
Tuomi is also an on-call firefighter and paramedic in Townsend, and Townsend Fire Chief Mark Boynton weighed in on the incident Tuesday.
“Based on the odds of surviving a cardiac arrest in itself, compounded by the conditions and location, the likely outcome was one of a man that dies on Christmas Eve while attending a football game with his son,” Boynton wrote. “Thanks to John, Jim and many others that helped on Saturday, the story was rewritten to one that all emergency responders strive to be part of one day. A story of saving a life, in this case on Christmas Eve in a crowded stadium.”
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