by Holly Ramer
CONCORD, N.H. – Doctors joined lawmakers to celebrate the signing of a life-saving bill Tuesday, but no one’s praise was more heartfelt than Michael Tighe’s.
Tighe, the first person ever to be saved by a defibrillator on a domestic flight, watched Gov. Jeanne Shaheen sign a bill aimed at increasing use of the devices in New Hampshire.
"Today is a day of much gratitude in my life," he said.
Tighe was three hours into a flight from Boston to Los Angeles last November when he suffered a heart attack. Flight attendants saved him, using a defibrillator that had been installed just days earlier.
"My wife is a nurse. She panicked. She was frozen," he said. "I was for all intents and purposes a dead person."
At the time, Tighe was working for the Boston Public Health Commission. Part of his job was to promote the use of defibrillators in office buildings and malls, although he was not as enthusiastic about it as he is now, he said.
"It wasn’t until it hit me personally that I became a convinced volunteer," he said.
Nearly 4,000 people die in New Hampshire a year due to heart disease, more than those killed by cancer, pulmonary disease, accidents and AIDS combined, said Dr. Jon Wahrenberger, a cardiologist at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center.
Defibrillators deliver shocks to restart normal heart rhythms in a heart that is not beating properly. By encouraging police officers and businesses to buy the machines, Wahrenberger estimated the new law could save more than 300 people a year.
"We all know people are afraid of getting sued," he said. "This legislation will go a long way toward removing that reluctance."
Sen. Ned Gordon, R-Bristol, one of the bill’s sponsors, called it one of the highlights of the legislative session.
"Every once in a while, the law comes together with common sense," he said.
Rep. Phyllis Katsakiores, R-Derry, accepted a defibrillator donated for use at the Statehouse.
"The average age of a Legislator is 60 or 65, we’re all just about there," she said jokingly. "Hopefully, we’re not going to use it, but it’s a wonderful gift."