Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa Emergency Department nurse Israel Vigil was honored at a recent San Jose Earthquakes game for resuscitating 75-year-old Sylvia Lee. Pictured above, Lee with her son, Dennis Petty, on the left and Vigil on the right.
When Israel Vigil tells the story of how he saved Sylvia Lee’s life at an Earthquakes soccer game, he makes a point of mentioning his seats.
Vigil and his wife, Melissa, are both registered nurses at Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa. They were at the afternoon game on April 24 celebrating their 11th wedding anniversary when Lee’s heart stopped, and Vigil and his wife jumped into action.
It was the Vigil’s first time at the Earthquakes’ new stadium in San Jose, so when Israel went online searching for tickets, he said he considered at least four other locations before settling on excellent seats, six rows up from the field.
“We were meant to be there for her that day,” he said. “We were two nurses sitting right behind her when she needed help.”
Climbing Over Seats to Help
Sylvia Lee and her son, Dennis Petty, had been running late for the game, so she ran up the 25 steps to Petty’s season-ticket seats. Lee, who puts in nine miles weekly on a treadmill, was celebrating her 76th birthday a day early. She said she was feeling good until a couple of minutes before halftime when her vision began to fade.
Lee said she could see the players and the field. “But there was no color, just gray. And that’s the last thing I remember.”
Petty said he remembers turning to his mom and grabbing her shoulder. “She tried to say something, and then her mouth froze and her head tilted to the right — and she was gone. It was like the batteries shut off.”
Petty’s seatmate to the right screamed for someone to get the usher to call for paramedics, while Petty turned to the crowd and yelled for somebody to help his mom.
Vigil said he was watching the final seconds of the first half, oblivious to what was going on until his wife elbowed him in the ribs and said, “She needs help.”
By now, it was halftime, and while thousands of fans left their seats for the break, Vigil and his wife climbed over Petty’s seats to help.
‘It Was a Miracle’
Vigil said he yelled at Lee and squeezed her shoulder blade, but there was no response. He checked for a pulse at her jugular vein, and his wife double-checked — but there was no pulse. So he quickly cleared the area, brought her to the ground, and started chest compressions.
He said his wife helped position her safely and managed her airway, while trying to quiet the crowd around them.
“The only voice I could hear was my wife’s, reminding me to let her recoil, to let go to allow her chest to raise,” he said.
Within a few minutes, Vigil said paramedics arrived and connected her to a defibrillator while he continued CPR.
And then Lee blinked.
“When I woke up the paramedics were around me and I was lying in front of my son and my seat,” Lee explained. “It was a miracle.”
‘I Can’t Thank Them Enough’
Lee spent five days in the hospital, but she said her doctors could find nothing wrong with her arteries or her heart.
“They told me in 30 percent of patients it happens one time like this, and it never happens again. But there’s no explanation.”
She got a chance to thank Vigil at a ceremony before the May 28 Earthquakes game, where he was honored.
Lee said she has a hard time finding words to express her gratitude.
“I just have to thank the nurses so much,” she said. “I thank God that they were with me, and they were sitting right behind me. I can’t thank them enough.”