Dr. Maeve O’Connor was flying from Phoenix to Charlotte Friday evening, seated behind an older gentleman who was talking happily with a fellow passenger.
Suddenly, the conversation stopped. The man – a gregarious California consultant named Thomas Lecoq – had suffered a seizure.
O’Connor, a Charlotte allergy doctor, found the 70-year-old man unresponsive and turning blue. She checked his pulse. There was none.
“He was dead,” O’Connor said.
Trained in advanced cardiac life support, O’Connor knew what to do next.
With help from other passengers aboard US Airways Flight 1854, she laid Lecoq on his back in the plane’s emergency exit row. Then she and three other passengers – including a naval officer and an Air Force veteran trained in CPR – began giving Lecoq oxygen and chest compressions.
Unsuccessful in their efforts to revive Lecoq, O’Connor and the others were about to take the next step: trying to restart his heart with a defibrillator. They placed the paddles on his chest, but before shocking him, O’Connor checked his pulse one more time.
His heart was beating again. Soon, he was breathing and conscious.
Lecoq said he remembers talking with a neighbor when a “woozy” feeling overcame him. The next thing he recalls was the sound of O’Connor’s voice: “You’re OK. Come on back.”
“To hear that he was breathing again, it was definitely a huge relief,” said Ryan Ross, a Tega Cay resident who helped do CPR on Lecoq.
The plane’s pilot suggested they continue on their flight to Charlotte, which was more than an hour away, O’Connor and Ross said.
“I said, ‘No. We kind of need to land the plane now,’ ” O’Connor recalled.
So the pilot made an emergency landing in Nashville, Tenn. where Lecoq was rushed to a hospital.
O’Connor conferred with medical personnel at the Nashville airport. When she returned to the plane, her fellow passengers greeted her with applause.
“It was nice,” said O’Connor, who is now practicing on her own after a legal fight with her former partners at a large Charlotte allergy clinic. “But I hoped they were clapping for him because he was alive.”
‘Nothing like the South’
Doctors in Nashville concluded Lecoq was severely dehydrated. That, in turn, threw his electrolytes out of balance. On Tuesday, Lecoq said he was feeling fine, aside from soreness in his chest.
His wife, Jean, said it’s hard to describe the gratitude and admiration she feels for O’Connor and the other passengers who helped her husband.
“You can only say ‘thank you’ so much,” said Jean, a retired vocational nurse. “The fact that someone stepped up and did the responsible thing is so overwhelming for me.”
Lecoq, who bears a resemblance to actor Gene Hackman, owns a consulting business that helps pediatric optometrists. He’d been on his way to Charlotte to meet with Dr. Philip Bugaiski, an optometrist who specializes in vision problems that interfere with learning and attention.
Lecoq eventually made it to Charlotte. For that, he’s grateful to O’Connor and the others who helped revive him.
“It’s wonderful the way those people treated me, that’s for sure,” he said Tuesday during a phone interview from the Charlotte airport, where he was waiting to board a plane back to southern California. “…There’s nothing like the South. People in the South have much better training in being nice.”
But when it comes to treating others well, Lecoq’s own training has been exceptional, his wife says.
“He affects so many people in so many different ways,” she said. “…I can’t stand the thought of losing him.”
For his part, Lecoq said the episode has reinforced an important lesson: “Life is a gift, and it’s pretty darned short. So you’d better get on with it.”
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