Terminal 5 at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) was packed with passengers when TSA Manager Howard Heaven encountered a traveler who suddenly collapsed.
The passenger fell backwards to the floor while waiting in line. She stopped breathing and was struggling to stay alive.
Heaven, a 19-year TSA veteran, was notified of the incident and rushed to the scene. He knew he faced a life-or-death situation. He had seen a lot at JFK, one of the busiest airports in the country, but he hadn’t experienced this before.
“I knew the passenger was in need of serious help immediately, due to the fact she was unresponsive,” Heaven said.
He called Port Authority police, requesting emergency medical personnel. He sectioned out an area, closed down lanes and moved people out of the way to provide space.
Two passengers in the queue identified themselves as nurses. Heaven sent a TSA officer to get the automated external defibrillator near the checkpoint. The nurses immediately began CPR and continued until medical professionals arrived 10 minutes later.
“I murmured to myself, ‘Lord we need your help to save this woman’s life and guide each person helping to bring her back,’” said Heaven.
By the time emergency personnel placed the passenger in the ambulance, she was responsive and stable.
Heaven was able to find her husband's cellphone number to tell him about his wife's situation. While her husband was understandably shaken up and frantic, Heaven calmly gave him details on the condition of the man’s wife.
“Heaven’s leadership at the scene ensured immediate medical aid was provided to the passenger,” said TSA JFK Federal Security Director John Bambury. “His ability to remain calm under pressure is no surprise to the team here at JFK. His calm leadership ensured an immediate response to save the passenger’s life. Heaven is an example of TSA’s commitment to the traveling public, and he represents the agency at its best.”
The passenger and her husband recently returned to JFK to meet Heaven and his staff and present a plaque in appreciation of his efforts during her cardiac arrest. She was shocked to hear that the manager’s last name was Heaven, and said she thought he was sent from heaven.
For the passenger, thanks to Heaven, heaven can now wait.
From TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs