The gasp and scream that came from behind John Yastion and his wife as they dined at a McKnight Road restaurant ended his 50th birthday dinner but started a chain of events that he says gave him the best gift he could have hoped for.
While he and his wife, Carol, were being seated on the evening of Sept. 28, Mr. Yastion casually noticed an older man and woman sitting at a nearby table.
"We were eating dinner and all of a sudden I heard [the woman] scream his name and then she said, 'Please help me,' " Mr. Yastion said. "I jumped up and he was slumped forward and vomiting. I rolled him over and cleared his throat. I was worried about him aspirating into his lungs."
The man Mr. Yastion would identify only as "Joe" was having a seizure, which lasted about four minutes. As Mr. Yastion hovered over Joe, Mrs. Yastion comforted Joe's wife.
Helping the man wasn't something he thought about, Mr. Yastion said later. It was just something he did.
The North Allegheny school board, however, found Mr. Yastion's actions commendable and publicly applauded him at a recent board meeting.
Mr. Yastion, of McCandless, has been a custodian at Carson Middle School for about five years. He said he knew what to do in that moment of crisis because of cardiopulmonary resuscitation training he received from North Allegheny nurse Kay Marcinick several years ago. Although the course did not directly address seizures, it taught the importance of maintaining an open airway, he said.
The district has offered CPR training to interested staff members since it began the Public Access Automated External Defibrillator program six years ago, said Charity Istone, chairwoman of the district's nurses department.
"Offering CPR training to the custodial staff is integral to providing a safe environment throughout the day, including after school hours when custodians may be the only staff available in the building," she said.
Mr. Yastion said he was surprised nobody else in the restaurant offered to help. Seeing that some people continued eating was even more disappointing, he said.
"They just sat there," he said. "It behooves people to help other people, and if you can, you should."
Mr. Yastion stayed by Joe's side until the paramedics put the man in the ambulance and drove away.
While Mr. Yastion was helping Joe, Mrs. Yastion helped Joe's wife call her son, who is a surgeon at Allegheny General Hospital.
The older couple's son and his surgical team had operated on Mrs. Yastion, who suffers from lupus. She works at Allegheny General as a computer trainer.
The son called later to thank Mr. Yastion for helping his father.
"I told him we're even," Mr. Yastion said. "I said you helped my wife and I helped your dad."
Mr. Yastion said Joe wasn't the only person who benefited that night.
"It was a gift for me, too," Mr. Yastion said. "It's something I'll always remember."
Rachael Conway can be reached at email@example.com or 724-772-4799.