Hospitalman apprentice Chris Anderson, with the 7th Communications Battalion from Okinawa, likely saved the life of a tourist in Thailand by administering CPR.

Hospitalman apprentice Chris Anderson, with the 7th Communications Battalion from Okinawa, likely saved the life of a tourist in Thailand by administering CPR. (Juliana Gittler/ S&S)

UTAPAO, Thailand — Heading back to his temporary base from an evening in fun-town Pattaya two weeks ago, Navy hospitalman apprentice Chris Anderson, in Thailand with the Okinawa-based 7th Communications Battalion helping with the tsunami disaster relief mission, came across an unconscious tourist with no pulse.

Instinct hit and training kicked in: He saved the man with quick CPR — and still made it back to his hotel for midnight curfew.

“We were coming out of one of the bars,” Anderson said recently. “There was kind of a crowd of people.”

In the middle was a slumped man, held partially off the ground by a crowd member. Anderson lay the man on the ground after checking and finding no pulse in his wrist. The hospitalman apprentice then checked for a pulse on the man’s neck and pinched a finger to see if the man would respond.

“He didn’t move,” Anderson said. The man also wasn’t breathing. “The Marine who was there said, ‘This guy is dead.’”

Anderson said he followed the CPR procedure he’d been taught, clearing the man’s airway. He knew mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and cardiopulmonary resuscitation was next.

The sailor said random thoughts filled his head. “I was thinking, ‘I’ve got to get back in time’ and ‘I don’t want to give this guy mouth-to-mouth.’”

But Anderson also was thinking of what to do next, he said, preparing to start chest compressions and rolling the man over if he began to vomit.

“The first thing I figured was he was passed out drunk.”

After one chest compression, the man stirred and woke, with a weak pulse.

“It was weird, after one compression you could just feel the life come back,” Anderson said.

The sailor spoke to him briefly. He never learned the man’s name, where he was from or what, for certain, caused him to pass out, Anderson said, but he believes the man was Russian. A woman with the man spoke Russian and said he hadn’t been drinking, the sailor said. The man thanked him; by then other medical personnel had arrived.

The entire episode lasted just a few minutes, the hospitalman apprentice estimated — little enough time for Anderson and his friends to jump in a taxi and return to his unit before midnight. “On the way back, we were on a high,” he said. “It was great. That’s what I got into this for.”

The next day Anderson told an independent duty corpsman of the incident. The story quickly made it up the ranks to his boss, senior medical officer Navy Lt. Tara High, and finally to mission commander Lt. Gen. Robert Blackman. High said she confirmed the story with other servicemembers who were at the scene.

Anderson might be up for an award for his quick work, the senior medical officer said. His corpsman training may have helped, High said, noting that the day before, she’d initiated an emergency medical drill for her corpsmen. Anderson led the exercise — doing “basically the exact same thing he had to do for real the next day,” she said.

Anderson said doing CPR on a real person was different: A dummy doesn’t have breakable ribs. But he still was glad for the training, he said: “Because we practice it so much, when it happened the training kicked in and it went well.”

Corpsmen are supposed to administer medical care to civilians only in emergencies — like this one, High said, adding that the hospitalman apprentice did exactly the right thing: “He definitely saved that guy’s life.”

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