October 25, 2021

Groton teenager honored for helping save dad during heart attack

‘I call it an act of God’

Shenandoah Briere/contributing photographer

Paige Graham, center, stands with her mom, Loretta, sister Cayla, 7, and father Bruce while holding the award she received from the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Department. The department honored Paige Graham for her efforts to save her father when he was having a heart attack.

GROTON — The Graham family in Groton had just finished eating dinner on Jan. 3 when Bruce Graham got up, walked behind the living room couch and dropped to the floor.

Paige Graham, 19, said the day had been going just like any other day.

“We were relaxing at home and then my dad started going in to cardiac arrest,” she said.

Her mom, Loretta, dialed 911, but soon tossed the phone to Paige as she ran into the kitchen to grab nitroglycerin tablets and aspirin because she had an inkling that Bruce was having another heart attack.

He had one two years earlier.

“When I came back in, she (Paige) threw me the phone and started doing chest compressions,” Loretta Graham said. “I was like ‘Great keep going.’”

The dispatcher had asked if anyone knew how to do cardiopulmonary resuscitation and without hesitation Paige replied yes, even though she had never been taught.

“I call it an act of God of course because I felt like something took over my body to keep me going,” Paige said.

“She’s pretty amazing,” her mom said. “She gave me the phone and she just went at it.”

As Paige pressed, again and again, at Bruce’s chest, the only thing Paige could think was “I want my father back.”

“It wouldn’t be the same without having him here,” she said.

Paige was recognized this month by the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office for her life-saving efforts that day. She received the first-ever Tompkins County Champion Award from the department during the county legislature’s Public Safety Committee meeting.

Tompkins County Sheriff Derek Osborne said Graham’s aunt, Tracy Smith, reached out to him to see if there was any way to recognize Graham’s efforts.

“I thought she was quite impressive,” Osborne said. That is when he thought of creating the Champion Award, which recognizes an “individual who displays exceptional courage, presence of mind, and swiftness in action in an emergency situation.”

“We just thought this would be a really good way to recognize the people in the community for good deeds geared toward public safety,” he said.

Paige was still doing chest compressions when an officer and volunteer Groton firefighter showed up a few minutes later. They were followed by the Groton fire department ambulance.

Medics spent 45 minutes on him, shocking him seven times before they got get a pulse and loaded him into the ambulance, Loretta said. Bruce was brought to Guthrie Cortland Medical Center, then flown to St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center in Syracuse.

It was at St. Joseph’s that Bruce was put into a medically induced coma, then the next day he would slip into a coma on his own.

“They told us he only had a 1% chance or less of coming back,” Paige said. “All we could do was wait.”

“And pray,” her mom added, crying as she recalled the moment.

After two weeks in a coma, Bruce awoke, but with a brain injury. Still, the family said they couldn’t be happier Bruce is alive.

“It’s a miracle,” Loretta said. “We’re so grateful for what Paige did. Paige is a hero to us.”

“I just feel that she’s amazing,” Bruce said.

Since the heart attack, Bruce had to sell his construction business and learn to walk and eat. He also goes to therapy to work on his memory and cognitive skills.

Paige said the doctors at St. Joseph’s told her that without her quick action her father wouldn’t have survived.

“They use the word ‘hero,’ but I’m not a big fan of that word because I don’t consider myself one. I just love having my father here and that’s all that matters at this point,” Paige said.