Airman saves man’s life at gym

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Victoria Nelson,
  • 157th Air Refueling Wing

PEASE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.H. – Moments after stepping into his local gym, a New Hampshire National Guardsman saved the life of a fellow patron on the evening of April 15.

“There was a man on the elliptical, business as usual, with a few other people walking around,” said Airman 1st Class Sokthearrith Dong, an aircrew flight equipment specialist with the 157th Operations Group. “As soon as I walked in, he fell off the machine and slammed his head on the ground.”

Another gym-goer yelled for help and Dong responded.

“I felt for a pulse, but I didn’t feel anything,” he remembered. “The trainer in there came over to help. We put the AED (automated external defibrillator) on him and followed the instructions.”

Outside of the Guard, Dong is a patrol supervisor with the Old Orchard Beach Police Department and has been trained on AEDs for worst-case scenarios. The machine prompted Dong to start doing compressions and eventually to administer a shock.

“I was surprised,” he said. “I’ve responded to plenty of incidents before, but this was the first time I’ve ever had to administer a shock.”

A cycle of compressions passed and the AED announced another wave.

“I remember thinking, ‘No way, this doesn’t seem right,’” Dong said. “But I kept following the instructions the machine was giving me. It seemed like the man had agonal breathing, but he was still with us.”

Soon after, the Saco Fire Department medics arrived, hooked up their EKG and shocked the man a third time.

The man was transferred to Maine Medical Center, treated for cardiac arrest and survived.

“His ability and willingness to initiate emergency care immediately saved this man’s life,” said David Hamel, the deputy chief with Saco Fire Department. “It goes without saying, Airman Dong came to the needs of a complete stranger in his gravest hour, and for that, we are all grateful.”

Dong received first aid, tactical combat casualty care and response training in military and police uniforms.

“Last drill, I went through the TCCC training and I kept thinking, good thing I had that,” he said. “I’m not religious or anything, but I got to the gym really late that day, and you know how it goes, everything happens for a reason.”

Dong enlisted in the New Hampshire Air National Guard in 2023 and graduated technical training only a month before the incident. He lives just one town over from the gym in southern Maine.

“He hasn’t been with us long, but he’s got a great work ethic and he’s a true Citizen-Airman,” said Tech. Sgt. Joel Miller, Dong’s supervisor and an aircrew flight equipment specialist with the 157th Operations Group.

Dong said he always wanted to join the Guard.

“I think the thing about the Guard is the great environment here and how they instill being a leader,” he added. “You hear all the time it’s not just doing the right thing but stepping up when no one is watching.”