MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan -- While participating in the 9th annual Kintaikyo Road Race in Iwakuni City, Japan, all of Navy Lt. Nathan Hemerly’s medical training kicked in when the balance between life and death was put in his hands.
Hemerly, with the assistance of a local Japanese nurse, performed CPR on a female participant of the race who suddenly fell and became unconscious during the run.
“I’ve dealt with situations like this during exercises in medical school, but this was the first real life scenario that I’ve ever been in, I was pretty nervous,” said Hemerly.
Hemerly finished the 10k run and as he walked along the sidelines looking for his wife and son, he saw one of the runners collapse.
“I thought that she had just tripped,” said Hemerly. “She got up and looked just fine, but then she fell again. At that time another Japanese participant helped her up and then continued running. Each time she fell I kept getting closer to the fence because every time it seemed more unusual.”
The third time the woman fell, Hemerly and a Japanese nurse came to her aid time and found the women unconscious and without a pulse. The nurse began to perform chest compressions as Hemerly took her head and performed rescue breaths.
“It was hard for me to know when to breathe because of the language barrier so I had to watch and wait for her to finish her chest compressions and then I’d perform two rescue breaths,” said Hemerly. “After I gave the two breaths the women coughed and then started breathing again.”
Hemerly said there were some concerns in his head from a liability stand point, but when she went down for a third time and nobody was around, those concerns immediately went away and his instincts took charge.
The Iwakuni City government found out about the incident and, with the confirmation of witnesses, decided they wanted to recognize Hemerly for his heroic actions.
The Iwakuni City Sports Association presented Hemerly, a family medicine doctor at the Robert M. Casey Medical and Dental Clinic, with a Certificate of Appreciation at City Hall in Iwakuni City, Japan, May 12, 2015.
“At the Road Race we have a lot of medical staff ready to respond to unforeseen situations, but (Hemerly) acted first in this situation and we appreciate that,” said Akehiko Date, chairmen at the General Incorporated Association Iwakuni City Sports Association. “It was a very symbolic event for Japan and the U.S.”
Hemerly said it was hard to believe the government went through all the planning and coordinating to put together the ceremony for him, adding that he’s just happy he was able to save the woman’s life.
“I was just doing what I thought was the right thing to do, I wasn’t looking for any attention,” said Hemerly. “Part of why we’re here is to build bonds with the Japanese and I believe this situation could be viewed as an act of friendship.”
Coordinators with the sports association put all of their efforts into hosting the Road Race and invited Americans to show and build the relationship between the U.S. and Japan.
Date said that the act of kindness made by Hemerly is proof that the relationship really is growing.
Hemerly said he encourages everyone to get certified in Basic Life Support, just in case someone else ends up in a situation like the one he experienced.