By Clay Wilson
High schoolers sometimes question whether they will ever use the things they are learning in class later in life.
Last Thursday, Stockbridge resident Barry Phipps used the knowledge he gained in junior high school to save a life.
Phipps, a 14-year Henry County resident who ran for a post on the county commission last year, is in his fifth week as a customer service worker for Delta Air Lines. He said he works Concourse A at Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport.
It was there, around 1:30 p.m. on September 18, that Phipps had to quickly recall the CPR he had learned more than a decade before in junior high school.
Phipps said he was walking down the concourse when a man who had gotten off at Gate A1 collapsed about 15 yards away from him, between gates A13 and A15.
"He went down face-first, just like a ton of bricks," Phipps said.
Phipps said he and a passenger ran up to the man, and while the passenger gathered the luggage he had been carrying Phipps checked the man's condition. As the man lay on his stomach, Phipps could detect no breathing and only a faint pulse.
By the time Phipps rolled the man over and called to a gate agent to summon an ambulance, the man had no pulse.
Phipps was joined by another passenger, who happened to be an off-duty police officer. Together, they started performing CPR, with the officer doing chest compression and Phipps giving respiration.
Then Phipps called for one of the automatic external defibrillators that Hartsfield has on hand. When a gate agent brought it, he and the officer hooked it up.
They administered three electric shocks to the man, but to no avail. Between shocks, they continued performing CPR. Finally, emergency medical technicians arrived and took over.
Although the EMTs were at first unsuccessful, as well, they were able to resuscitate the victim once they got him in the ambulance.
Phipps said he found out that the EMT's had saved the man's life when he went to Southern Regional Medical Center, where they said they were taking the victim, later in the afternoon.
Phipps learned that the man is the Rev. Donald Wick, a Presbyterian minister from Boston who was transferring flights on his way to a church conference in Louisville, Ky. After being transferred from SRMC to Crawford W. Long Hospital in Atlanta, Wick had surgery to implant heart stints and an internal defibrillator.
He was released from the hospital Tuesday and flew home to Massachusetts on Wednesday.
He flew Delta. Phipps met him at Hartsfield's passenger drop-off area with a wheelchair.
"Of course, we upgraded him to first class," Phipps said.
Delta, Phipps' still-relatively new employer, praised his Sept. 18 actions.
"We are extremely proud of Barry's actions," said Delta spokeswoman Katie Connell. "He demonstrated quick thinking and great compassion in responding to a life-threatening situation."
Wick was succinct in his tribute to Phipps.
"He's the hero," he said Wednesday evening. "He knew exactly what to do."
In fact, Wick said, one of the doctors told him that if Phipps and the other Good Samaritan hadn't acted so quickly, Wick might have suffered paralysis or brain damage, or simply would have died.
Phipps said he isn't sure exactly how he recalled the CPR technique he had learned in junior high.
"It never entered my mind (when he went to work for Delta) that I'd have to do anything like that," he said. "But I guess that's when they say when duty calls, you do what you have to."
Wick said that besides saving his life, Phipps also came to the hospital to visit him. On Sunday, Phipps took his family to meet Wick. Both say they now feel a connection that goes beyond a simple rescuer-victim bond.
"It's not just being indebted to him; I feel like he's a friend," Wick said.
And, he said, he thinks Phipps' actions demonstrate a greater truth:
"It's quite a story about somebody helping somebody ? and I guess that's what life's all about."