Exec saves a man’s life

MANILA, Philippines – On Oct. 24, 2006, Romil Silva of Lipa, Batangas, believed he saw Christ.

And no, he did not have shoulder-length hair, kind eyes or a two-inch beard. Rather, the person he saw had the build of a wrestler; wore rubber shoes, shorts and a marathon shirt and was furiously giving CPR to his father who had suffered a heart attack.

It was more than two months later before he realized that the person who had saved his father’s life that chaotic day at the Nagoya airport in Japan was James M. Lafferty, president of Procter & Gamble Philippines.

The younger Silva recalls to the Inquirer that he and his father, Romeo, were lining up at the Nagoya airport for a layover from a long 12-hour flight from Detroit, Michigan, when his 74-year-old father suddenly slumped to the ground.

In his panic, all that he could blurt out was Tatay, Tatay, lumaban ka (Father, father, fight). He could not even bear to touch his father for fear of making his condition worse.

Lafferty, on the other hand, who was traveling with his wife and two youngest children, was about 10 persons behind the Silvas when he heard the shout, and saw the elder Silva fall to the ground.

His instinct to help kicked in and he rushed to Silva’s side. He felt for a pulse, realizing that there was none, he ripped his shirt open and immediately gave CPR to try and restart his heart.

It had been a while since Lafferty last gave CPR, which was why he was running through the steps in his mind while compressing hard on Silva’s heart to make sure he was doing it right.

Fortunately, he says, CPR was a skill one doesn’t easily forget and it is never as easy as it is made to appear on hospital scenes in television shows.

We are talking about hard compressions to the chest and I was really all over this person, Lafferty says. ?By the time I was done, I had to change my shirt because I was drenched in sweat.?

I also remember looking up twice to shout and ask where the medical personnel were. I looked up again and saw my wife tightly holding on to this young man, whom I later learned was the son of the man I was giving CPR to, Lafferty adds in an interview.

He recalls that during the whole ordeal, only a few people kneeled down beside him to try and help. Thousands more who were at the busiest point of the Nagoya airport in between customs and security either just looked the other way or walked on by.

Lafferty also had a choice.

He could either leave Silva to his fate or make the flight to Manila. He chose to stay and try to bring Silva back to life.

If I had left, what kind of message would I give to my children who always hear me say that we should always try to do the right thing, Lafferty says.

Nagoya airport medical personnel finally came after 45 minutes and put Silva on a stretcher, and only after Lafferty successfully got Silva’s heart beating again.

After quickly briefing the medical personnel of Silva’s situation, Lafferty and his family hurriedly picked up their bags, rushed through security and got back on the Northwest Airlines flight for Manila.

Northwest Airlines was outstanding because they held the flight for us. We were the last to board the plane, and we took off as soon as we got in, Lafferty says.

He says about 30 people on board the plane came up to him during the flight to ask him about what had happened. All he could say was that the guy was alive when he last saw him, but that he did not know anything else.

It was his consuming need to know that drove him to do whatever it took to find out what had happened to the elderly person that he did not know from Adam.

He, however, admits that he was not feeling too optimistic because the only two other people he had given CPR to in a beach in Morocco did not make it.

I really just wanted to know if it was different this time, Lafferty says.

While Lafferty and his family were on their way to Manila, the Silvas, on the other hand, found themselves in a community hospital in Nagoya where nobody spoke any English.

Romeo Silva regained consciousness a few hours after he was admitted, but it took about a day before he was back to normal. It was four days before the Silvas were given the go-ahead to go back to Manila.

What I learned at the hospital was that the good that you do for others comes back to you tenfold, Romil says.

He related how airline and airport personnel visited them after they got off work just to see how they can help, and how a total stranger went to his room and gave him 2,000 yen because he realized that he did not have any money to buy food with.

On the day that he wheeled his father out of the hospital, some of the staff members were in tears because they got to know the Silvas well, even if they communicated only through sign language.

?When we got on the plane back to Manila, I kept on talking to my father because I was afraid he would fall asleep and have another heart attack, Romil says.

When we finally landed in Manila, I shouted “Thank God! I did not care if the others in the plane were staring at me, I was just happy to be home, with my father alive and well, he adds.

They immediately went home to Batangas and Romil asked the airline for information on who had saved his father.

I knew that he gave me his calling card at the airport just before they left, but I lost it in my panic,? Romil says.

He thought he would never get to personally thank his father’s savior, not knowing that Lafferty was in another part of the Philippines looking for his father.

Fate finally stepped in and on Dec. 24, 2006, Lafferty got a call from Northwest Airlines and he was told that the person he saved was Romeo Silva and that he was alive and well and looking for him.

That was the greatest Christmas present ever, Lafferty says, ?to know that I was able to make a difference.

A few days after, Romil got a similar call and finally knew who he owed for his father’s life.

And finally, through the kindness of P&G personnel and Northwest Airlines staff, Lafferty and Silva finally met for the first time at Lafferty’s office in Makati City just after New Year.

I cannot put into words how we felt when they met again for the first time since the incident, Romil says. ?I really believe that the time stopped when they hugged each other tight with tears streaming down all of our faces.

They met again last month to celebrate Romeo Silva’s 75th birthday.

I feel so happy to be alive, the elder Silva says.

Lafferty is, too.