‘She saved my life’

  • Emergency nurse Rachele Halliday got an unexpected visit Thursday at Hilo Medical Center from Jack Dalton, whose life she’d helped save on a United Airlines flight bound for Hilo. (TIM WRIGHT/Special to the Tribune-Herald)

HILO — Rachele Halliday looked as if she didn’t quite place his face at first.

Jack Dalton, though, appeared much different than the last time she had seen him. That Sunday in June, he was ashen and gray — and not breathing.

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But it was a much-alive and grateful Dalton who, along with his girlfriend, Sylvia Lopez, entered a conference room at Hilo Medical Center on Thursday morning, arms filled with a giant arrangement of tropical flowers, a gift basket of goodies and a floral lei.

It was the first time Dalton had seen Halliday since she had worked to save his life after he suffered a “widow maker” heart attack aboard a June 23 flight heading to Hawaii from Los Angeles.

Halliday, a registered nurse who works in quality management at HMC, didn’t know he was there to thank her. She sat with a small group that had gathered under the guise of a routine meeting.

For a moment, she looked uncertain, hesitant.

“Rachele, do you remember Jack?” someone asked.

She did.

The two hugged tightly. Tears welled up in her eyes, and the group quietly applauded, some wiping away tears of their own.

“I’m so happy you’re doing well!” she said. “You just don’t know. I just didn’t know what happened.”

Both Dalton and Lopez thanked Halliday for her efforts that day.

“I’m happy that I was there, and I wasn’t alone. There was about five doctors that I bossed around,” Halliday said, as the group laughed.

Dalton, who lives in Hilo and teaches at Honokaa High and Intermediate School, had spent that June weekend in Los Angeles for a family get-together.

It was his father’s 90th birthday, a niece had just graduated from college, and “we threw in my mother’s birthday and anybody else’s birthday that was around that time.”

He was returning to Hilo on Sunday, June 23 — the anniversary of his grandfather’s death. “He was on board,” Dalton said.

Halliday said the person next to him had noticed Dalton was snoring and unresponsive.

A doctor was called for.

“And I said, ‘Well, I was an (emergency room) nurse,’ (and then I) handed my baby off to a stranger, and climbed over the seats,” Halliday said. “There aren’t really any thoughts. There isn’t any question. I can’t say it’s just because I’ve done CPR so many times. I actually haven’t worked in the ER since 2012, but I teach … advanced cardiac life support and pediatric advanced life support, so I still get practice doing that. There’s something to be said about just that instinct that you respond, just because that’s how I’ve always responded. … I think the other doctors and people who responded probably felt the same way.”

Four other doctors were on board and also helped.

Dalton was laid out across three seats, his feet in the aisle. Halliday said they did CPR, defibrillated his heart once and performed more CPR, “and then you had a pulse back, and we covered you with blankets,” she said to Dalton during the reunion.

The plane was about an an hour out and it took as long to return.

Dalton was breathing on his own “which was good,” Halliday said. “And you never woke up, which I thought was scary, but maybe a good thing because if you woke up, what would we have (done) if you were hurting?”

After landing in San Francisco, Halliday said emergency responders came onto the plane and carried Dalton off. He was transported to Mills-Peninsula Medical Center in Burlingame, Calif.

When he woke up, he didn’t have memory of what happened.

“Every morning now, when the sun rises and it comes from dark to light, I come back to that moment, and I’m just so fortunate to be here, and I sure appreciate (it),” Dalton said.

Halliday eventually flew back to Hilo “and I thought, I guess I’ll never know what will happen” to him.

Dalton thought the same.

They didn’t know they were both in Hilo until Dalton came to HMC later for treatment.

“She saved my life,” Dalton said. “It was kind of a hole for me that I wanted to have filled, and I was kind of fortunate to trace it back to that. The story that we got was there were Army doctors on the plane and they had done it,” but Halliday’s HMC coworker who reviewed Dalton’s chart “came on and told us what exactly had happened, so that made it easier to meet the person that saved my life.”

On Thursday during Dalton’s surprise visit, Halliday said her thoughts turned to “how incredible it is that all of these things that I teach and have done for years, that they do work. A lot of times, you just don’t ever know (the outcomes), and I definitely thought about you and wondered.”

It was happenstance that Halliday was on the Hawaii-bound flight, even more so that she was returning from Nashville, Tenn., where she had done a presentation at a quality conference on high-performance CPR, which is a coordinated CPR effort that uses continuous compressions with coordinated breaths, as opposed to normal CPR efforts, where there’s a break about every 30 compressions to give breaths.

“High performance CPR, I think, is what helped save you, without any deficits, and that was the data we were presenting at this national conference,” she told Dalton.

Without the CPR and defibrillation, “it would have stopped there.”

But for Lopez, who on Thursday said she was incredibly grateful, it all was a miracle from the beginning.

“Because the fact that he was even on a plane on a Sunday,” she said. “If that would have happened while he was at home, I’m at work all day until 7 o’clock at night, and he’s by himself with the dogs at home. I would have came home, and he would have been gone. The fact that he’s on the plane with you, out of all people. It just wasn’t his time. …”

Dalton said he feels good, now.

“Life is good, God is great, and miracles happen,” he said.

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“I’ll just ditto that,” Halliday said.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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