Strangers save man having heart attack at Greenwood YMCA

Three women helped save the life of a man having a heart attack at the Greenwood YMCA in July.
Published: Aug. 19, 2022 at 6:25 PM EDT
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GREENWOOD, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - On any given day of the week, you’ll find people working at the Greenwood YMCA wellness studio.

On July 17-- Gigi Smith was there walking on a treadmill, Elizabeth Watkins working out on a bike, and 77-year-old Phil Zigos going about his workout routine.

“I typically get on the stationary bike for 30 minutes and then I do the machines,” said Zigos.

However, that Sunday turned out to be anything but typical.

“I didn’t even finish my 30 minutes [on the bike] and I blanked out,” Zigos reflected.

Zigos fell off his bike and wasn’t getting back up.

“I heard [someone] say call 911, so I looked around and I saw him on the floor,” Smith said.

“I could see that his chest wasn’t moving. He was not a normal color,” Watkins mentioned. “I started chest compressions, she started the breaths and we just did that for what seemed like forever.”

Two women, complete strangers, now working together to save the life of another stranger.

“It was really helpful to be able to work as a team,” said Watkins.

Watkins worked 13 years as a vet tech and had only ever done CPR on animals. As for Smith, she’s worked in operating rooms for 30 years, but had never done the technique on a real person.

“I just remembered the basics--go as hard as you can, lock your elbows,” Watkins remembered. “Stop every once and awhile for breaths.”

Their training kicked in, but not without doubt.

“[I wondered] are we doing the right thing? Am I doing it right?, Watkins questioned. “Are we doing it long enough?”

A few minutes later, YMCA employee Sunni Carwile came with the defibrillator.

“Once you start [the AED] up, it tells you everything you need to do and we just waited for EMS,” Carwile said.

The employee guesses she did two to three shocks on Zigos before EMS arrived.

“It is so much different doing it in a class than doing it on a real person,” Carwile reflected on her training.

Zigos was rushed to the hospital, doctors calling it a cardiac arrest.

“[The YMCA director] said he is in the CICU. They intubated him and he is alive and the relief that flooded through me. I think I started crying right there at the front desk.”

Zigos still alive thanks to others being at the right place at the right time.

“It’s crazy how all of the little things stack up to put you somewhere you need to be,” Watkins said.

“It was meant for me to be here. Just kind of surreal,” Carwile added.

“I am forever thankful to everyone. Particularly my YMC-Angels that stepped in to help me out,” Zigos said. “We will have a forever friendship.”

A group of strangers no more.