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Nurse Saves Traveler’s Life During Heart Attack At Airport

James King, MPA
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A Florida man credits an observant nurse for saving his life after he suffered a heart attack at Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina. Ken Jeffries, 57, was waiting to board a flight to Knoxville, Tennessee, on June 7 when he began experiencing medical distress. Claire Cerbie, a registered nurse also waiting at the gate, noticed Jeffries’ condition and immediately sprang into action.

Cerbie recognized the signs of a heart attack based on Jeffries’ breathing patterns and snoring. “Just the way that you were snoring and breathing sounded like you were having a heart attack based on what I’ve seen before,” Cerbie explained to Jeffries during a reunion Zoom call.

Without hesitation, Cerbie began performing CPR and directed others to assist, instructing a bystander to fetch a defibrillator. “We put the pads on him,” Cerbie recalled. “It indicated a shockable rhythm, and it shocked him in between while we were doing compressions.” Her quick actions and the use of the defibrillator helped restore Jeffries’ pulse within 10 minutes.


Jeffries was then transported to Atrium Health Carolinas Medical Center, where he underwent emergency surgery. Dr. William Downey, the cardiologist who performed the procedure, emphasized that Cerbie’s immediate response was crucial. “If she had not performed chest compressions and used the defibrillator, Jeffries would have died,” Downey stated.

Overwhelmed with gratitude, Jeffries expressed his appreciation to Cerbie. “A ‘thank you’ is not enough, Claire. Thank you for what you did, I am so appreciative and indebted to you,” he said. Cerbie humbly responded, “I’m very glad that I was there that day to help you out. I’d obviously do it again in a heartbeat.”

In recognition of her lifesaving efforts, American Airlines upgraded Cerbie to first class on her flight to Knoxville. Jeffries, who had not noticed any symptoms prior to his cardiac arrest, is now recovering and deeply grateful for the nurse’s intervention.

Heart attacks, or myocardial infarctions, are severe medical emergencies that occur when blood flow to the heart muscle is blocked. According to the CDC, one person suffers a heart attack every 40 seconds in the United States. Lifestyle changes such as healthy eating, regular exercise, adequate sleep, quitting smoking, and stress management can significantly reduce the risk of heart attacks.