Health + Wellness

Waiting For Takeoff, Her Heart Stopped. Flight Attendants Came to the Rescue.

cardiac arrest vs heart attack
(Photo courtesy of Vonnie Gaither)

Vonnie Gaither hated leaving a reunion of extended family in Baltimore. Still, she had to tear herself away to start the trek back home to Anchorage, Alaska.

Her flight from Baltimore to Salt Lake City was uneventful. After boarding the plane bound for Anchorage, she buckled up and called a friend to let her know she was on her way.

She then slumped over. A pair of flight attendants walking down the aisle to check that passengers were wearing their seat belts found her. She was unresponsive and didn’t have a pulse.

One attendant, James “Hutch” Hutchison, performed CPR. Another went to retrieve an automated external defibrillator. The AED sends an electric pulse or shock to the heart to restore a normal heart rhythm.

A jolt on the plane failed to generate a sustained rhythm. Gaither was being taken away from the plane, toward rescue workers inside the airport, when she was given a second jolt on the breezeway. Her heart required a third jolt in the ambulance on the way to a hospital in Salt Lake City.

Meanwhile, Gaither’s adult daughter, Toi Gaither Registe, who was living near her mother in Anchorage, got a call from one of her mother’s friends who told her what had happened.

Registe booked the first flight to Salt Lake City. She was headed to the Anchorage airport when she tracked down a doctor who could explain what happened.

Her mom had a heart attack and subsequently went into cardiac arrest. The terms are often mistakenly used interchangeably. A heart attack is essentially a plumbing problem; cardiac arrest is an electrical problem.

The heart attack was caused by a 90% blockage that required three stents.

While Registe was on the plane, she overheard flight attendants talking about someone who’d

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