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Face of Defense: Airman Aids Veteran During Medical Crisis

TUCSON, Ariz., Oct. 24, 2017 — After a long day of work, Air Force Senior Airman Keith Buckman, an aerospace propulsion technician with the 923rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base here, returned to his home to get some well-deserved rest. At about 2:30 the next morning, Buckman was awakened by a phone call from his friend, Mark Byrne, a 57-year-old Army veteran.

“He was incoherent and I couldn’t understand what he was saying,” Buckman said. “He could have been mistaken for being extremely intoxicated, but that wasn’t like him.”

After realizing Byrne was acting out of character, Buckman rushed off to make sure everything was okay.

He was met with a shocking discovery after arriving at Byrne’s motor home at the base’s FamCamp RV park.

“He was hunched over the kitchen table, all swollen and red, and drooling all over the table,” Buckman said. “You could tell he was conscious, but not functioning regularly.”

Once Byrne realized Buckman had arrived, he tried his hardest to reach out and hand his phone over so Buckman could talk to the security forces personnel on the line.

“I distinctly remember trying to call security forces -- they couldn’t understand me either,” Byrne said. “In my mind everything was coming out clear, but apparently I was slurring all of my words.”

Buckman took the phone and explained to the law enforcement desk that he wasn’t exactly sure what happened to Byrne, but he needed help immediately.

Buckman soon saw the flashing lights of security forces vehicles, but he realized they didn’t know the exact location of Byrne’s motor home. He grabbed a flashlight and flagged them down.

Transient Ischemic Attack

Doctors determined Byrne suffered from a transient ischemic attack, a stroke-like episode requiring immediate medical attention, which would keep him in the hospital throughout the remainder of the morning. TIA’s cause the same symptoms as strokes, and are often referred to as mini-strokes, but the symptoms can resolve themselves in 24 hours. Despite their short duration, a TIA can still result in brain injury and is a risk factor for a future stroke.

When he was transported to the hospital, Byrne was forced to leave his 89-year-old father behind at home. Buckman stepped in and cared for Byrne’s father that morning while he was in recovery.

“After I made sure his dad was set, I went back to my home and prepared for work, and later that day I picked Byrne up from [Southern Arizona Veterans Affairs Health Care System]," Buckman said.

“If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know,” Byrne said. “Without Buckman being as professional and mature as he was, that night could have gone a lot worse.”

Buckman’s swift response, calm attitude under pressure, and willingness to check on a friend in the middle of the night potentially reduced the risk of Byrne suffering from future strokes.