Airline passenger saved

June 2, 2009 4:13:33 PM PDT
Tuesday a special group of people were reunited at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. A man who nearly died of a heart attack while on a U.S. Airways plane met the flight crew and passengers who saved his life. U.S. Airways flight attendant Susan Lampert said, "It was a full flight and we had just pushed back from the gate."

Don Dietrich, 60, of South Philadelphia said his wife said he "was gray, my eyes were buldging out and I was gasping for air."

Don's wife yelled for help. "Don was dying and I knew it immediately."

This is how the near-tragedy for the Diedrich family started. On January 31st aboard a U.S. Airways flight. They were on their way to an island off Puerto Rico to celebrate their anniversary when Don suffered a heart attack.

A flight attendant asked for help over the public address system.

"I got up to the front of the aircraft along with an ER nurse from Pittsburgh," said Dave Riley of Boyertown, a firefighter and EMT.

He lead the team of flight attendants, himself and another good samaritan. They started CPR, and used the AED, or automated external defibrillator and were able to restart Don's heart.

"You always wonder if what you trained to do will kick in and it does," flight attendant Lisa Hillenbrand said.

Don spent a month in the hospital, but is now fully recovered and reuniting for the first time with the people who saved him.

"I told him it was good to see him vertical," Riley said.

Dietrich said, "I told him thank you- what can you say other than that."

Doctors say it was the quick action of bystanders to start CPR and use the AED that saved Don's life. They also used a new hypothermia treatment at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. It limits brain damage after the heart is resusitated.

Dietrich said he is now considering getting CPR/AED certified. Riley hopes this story will spark others to also get certified.

"You never know when you're going to need it," he said.

CPR/AED classes are offered through the American Red Cross and American Heart Association.

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