DETROIT (WXYZ) — Running the Belle Isle New Year’s Eve Run/Walk is an annual tradition for David Gallagher, 66. However, the most recent race was almost his last.
His heart stopped, according to doctors.
Katelyn Lloyd, another runner, recalls reaching the 2.5-mile mark.
“I watched him pass me and he went around the corner. And as I crossed the corner, went around the corner, I saw him lying face down on the pavement," she said.
Lloyd, a nurse from Dearborn Heights with the Michigan Department of Corrections, sprang action.
“Sir, can you hear me? Sir, can you hear me? He’s not responding," she recalled.
Lloyd, 26, started performing CPR on Gallagher, who had also broken his nose from falling.
Park conversation officers responded with an AED. The device was used to shock Gallagher’s heart while waiting for first responders to arrive. As it turns out, he had suffered a heart attack due to a blockage in two coronary vessels.
Thursday, one month later, was the first time Gallagher got to meet the hero who saved his life.
“This was my most dramatic finish," the crowd laughed.
The Troy resident, who said he runs a few times a week on his lunch break, has a sense of humor through a near tragedy and, of course, gratitude.
“It’s just an overwhelming feeling to acknowledge people who help others. Just complete strangers. She interrupted her life for me. She did for me what I couldn’t do for myself and everyone. All the health care workers," he said.
Detroit firefighters Michael Morgan and Joshua Mather whisked him away to the hospital for the next life-saving step.
“Early defibrillation is always best. It’s always good, and I’m happy and excited that they did have the AED firsthand on there because a lot of races don't have it," Morgan said.
Mather said, “By the time he got in our ambulance, he was alive and had a pulse.”
Dr. Kenton Zehr, the head of Detroit Medical Center's Heart Hospital, performed open heart surgery on Gallagher to remove the blockage.
"Coronary disease does not manifest itself until late in the process, so you can have various tight blockages where the blood can still get through until the heart is stressed with a run," Zehr explained.
He added, "I think the message is, is that if you’re a part-time runner, you’re maybe out of shape but you’re doing a race that’s really stressing you, you should be aware of what your family history for coronary artery disease is and potentially have stress test."
Lloyd said, "Remember, at the end of the day, we're all human and it's our responsibility to make sure other people are OK, to check in with people."
To top off the day, race director Stephen Moran gave Gallagher a finisher's medal.