Airport employee recognized for life-saving effort
(Dec. 17, 2015) As a Multitrades Worker for Tampa International Airport for the past five years, Jeff Phillips is used to coming to the rescue for minor emergencies and things that need fixing.
But on October 15, Jeff came to the rescue during a medical emergency and changed someone’s life.
“It was like it was just meant to be,” Jeff said.
Jeff works the night shift at the Airport. When he got off work the morning of October 15 and back to his home in Plant City, he decided to go for a run to train for his adult soccer league.
“I don’t have a set route. I just chose to go left that day,” Jeff said. “I was taking my dog Jay Paul with me and let him decide the route we would take.”
Tom and Carole Shepherd, who typically walk early in the morning, were walking later than usual after running an errand. When Jeff rounded the corner, he glanced left down the street and saw the older couple. Tom Shepherd looked flustered as he tried to talk on his cellphone. Carole lay unconscious on the ground.
“I glanced over and I see somebody on the ground. I’m trying to make sense of what’s going on. I see that the man is on the cellphone and the lady is on the ground – and all I heard was ‘she’s not breathing,’ ” Jeff said. “I just knew then that I had to do something. I couldn’t just walk away or do nothing.”
So he jogged over to the couple, tied up Jay Paul, and began chest compressions.
“I had just been talking about CPR technique at the airport with co-workers days before,” Jeff said.
Jeff first learned CPR while in the U.S. Army and said that he has taken refresher courses over the years to stay current on the latest technique. His most recent class was taken at the fire station about a year after starting work at the Airport.
After working on Mrs. Shepherd for few minutes, EMS showed up and took over the emergency treatment. Jeff said that he overheard Mr. Shepherd say her name to the medics, but the only thing he heard clearly was “Shepherd.”
Jay Paul was still tied up to the tree, and he was barking loudly. That’s when Jeff figured it was time to go.
“So I said, ‘Good luck, Mr. Shepherd. I hope that everything’s OK.’ ”
And he went home, still in disbelief at what had just happened.
“My wife didn’t believe me at first. But she could see that I was emotional about it,” Jeff said.
As the days and weeks passed, he often wondered what happened to Mrs. Shepherd. He knew the hospital wouldn’t release information to a stranger so Jeff said that he did the only thing he could: He checked the obituaries.
“I just wanted some closure – just to know what happened.”
Then one day Jeff came home from work and opened the newspaper, and there she was.
“I saw the photo of the couple on the front page of the paper, and knew immediately that it was the woman that I performed CPR on,” Jeff said. The story in the Plant City Observer referred to a “Good Samaritan” a “mystery man” that saved her life. The editor asked for the person who helped to save Carole to come forward.
Jeff’s wife Felicia contacted the editor, and the two couples met.
Jeff still gets choked up thinking about his new extended family and the emotional reunion that day he met both Tom and Carole Shepherd. After all, he says, it’s not every day that you learn how you changed someone’s life. The incident has changed his life for the better as well, he said. Both he and Felicia, and the couple’s 15-year-old son Logan, plan to stay in touch with the Shepherds.
Jeff learned later that Carole suffered from sudden cardiac arrest and at the hospital was given a very slim chance for survival.
“Every time I see her now, she tells me how she was so blessed and thankful, and really feel like she has had a second chance at life,” said Jeff. “When I saw her alive, well, it was an emotional time. For all of us. We feel like we are family now.”
Jeff said that he has been humbled by the experience and is grateful for the opportunity to use his skills to save someone’s life. His section leader, Keith Flynn said that he was not surprised to learn about the life-saving episode.
“Jeff is an outstanding employee in every way,” said Keith. “He is a great worker, and a great person. I can’t say enough good things about him.”