Off-Duty SRMC Health Care Worker Helps Save Man at Gym

Everyday hundreds of people at UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center (SRMC) dedicate their time and skills to their patients. Lifesaving work is their job and their passion. But for two women who work there, it’s what happened outside of the hospital that changed both their lives and saved another. 

Strangers before, now the two are bonded forever.

I still can't believe it happened. You look back on it and you're like, ‘wow.’

Jennifer Torbaghan, RN, MSN, UNM Center of Excellence

“I still can't believe it happened,” Jennifer Torbaghan, RN, MSN, said. “You look back on it and you're like, ‘wow.’”

Torbaghan is the Director of Surgical Specialty Clinics at The University of New Mexico’s Center of Excellence for Orthopaedic Surgery and Rehabilitation (COE), a facility located directly across from SRMC. She leads a team of health care professionals on the second floor. 

“My priority is my interactions with my staff. They're the biggest asset that I have and the reason we can deliver such good care to patients.” 

Outside the COE, Torbaghan leads another team- not of health care workers- but of CrossFit enthusiasts at the gym who know her simply as “Coach Jenn.” 

“I think leadership and coaching are very similar,” Torbaghan said. “They both have similar strengths, so I love doing it."

The day that changed everything happened at that gym CrossFit Thunderhawks, in Rio Rancho. After her shift at the COE, she went to work out; she wasn’t coaching that day. 

“I just got to be an athlete, which is super fun,” she said. “So, the coach brings us to the whiteboard. We're going through the workout that included running. The coach goes, ‘three, two, one, go!’ and I take off.”

Torbaghan started her run around the building when suddenly, “I heard a coach screaming for help,” she said. 

When she ran back inside, she saw a man, one of her trainees, lying motionless on the floor.

For a moment of time there was there was nothing. There was no breathing. There was nothing.

Jennifer Torbaghan, RN, MSN, UNM Center of Excellence

“At first it looked like he maybe had had a seizure, but he didn't have a pulse,” Torbaghan said. “His skin was cool and clammy, and his eyes were closed.”

The team at the gym called 911, the gym’s owner grabbed the automated external defibrillator (AED) and put the pads on the man’s chest. With the owner on one side and Coach Jenn on the other, the two worked to save his life. 

“When you put the AED pads on and it says, ‘shock advised,’ that means the aid has picked up on a lethal heartbeat rhythm or a rhythm that is not sustainable to life,” she said. 

And that’s exactly what the machine alerted. 

“We delivered a shock and then I started CPR. Luckily the AED was there, it was counting. It was keeping us on track,” Torbaghan said. 

The two took turns delivering CPR.

“For a moment of time there was there was nothing,” she said. “There was no breathing. There was nothing. After we did three rounds of CPR, he had some agonal breathing.”

Within minutes Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) arrived and took the man to the hospital. 

The next day, Torbaghan was still reeling from what had happened at the gym. 

“I had to come to work, take care of our patients, take care of our staff. But I left a little bit early so I could go see him,” she said, stopping to wipe away tears. “I needed to see him. I was so worried that I had hurt him by performing CPR.” 

When she arrived at the hospital, her worry subsided. 

“He was awake. He was alive,” Torbaghan said. “His wife was there, and he was so relieved. Of course, he had been through so much, but it was so great just to see him smile.”

Whether it's a leader in the hospital, a coach at a gym, it's just part of who we are and what we do. I'm just a little piece of the puzzle of what happened that day.

Jennifer Torbaghan, RN, MSN, UNM Center of Excellence

That man was Hassan Firoozi. At just 39 years-old he had suffered sudden cardiac arrest meaning his heart suddenly stopped beating. If it wasn’t for Coach Jenn and the team at the gym, he could have died. 

“She saved my life,” Firoozi said smiling. “She did it, she really did it!” 

Firoozi and his wife just moved to Rio Rancho a few months ago. Firoozi is an avid athlete who has competed in extreme endurance competitions like the Spartan Race, among others. He was eager to find a new gym and Torbaghan was the first person he met at CrossFit ThunderHawks. She encouraged him to join the team, a team that has also now become his family.

“She introduced me to people and told me ‘It's a good gym with great people; try it and you’ll love it.’ Those people literally saved my life,” Firoozi said. “I’m so glad to be here. Day by day, I'm fighting to get better with the support of my friends, my family, and especially my wife.”

At the hospital, Torbaghan and Firoozi discovered something else. Firoozi’s wife, also works at the COE, one floor down from Torbaghan.

“She's one of our outpatient physical therapists,” Torbaghan said. “I had no idea until I met her at the hospital.”

“We met in the ICU,” Gungeet Kaur, PT, MS, CLT, said smiling. “Jenn was really, supportive even afterwards if I needed anything. Just amazing,” she said. “I’m so thankful for these people.

Kaur and Firoozi are both so grateful the gym had an AED machine, and the team knew exactly what to do. 

“It so important to learn to do CPR and make AED accessible at all public places,” Firoozi said.

And the final twist in the story, the owners of CrossFit ThunderHawks who helped that day are also health care professionals. César Javier Hernandez, MD, and Anti Soto-Hernandez, MD, originally from Puerto Rico, both did their residencies at the UNM School of Medicine. 

“Whether it's a leader in the hospital, a coach at a gym, it's just part of who we are and what we do,” Torbaghan said about the group. “I'm just a little piece of the puzzle of what happened that day.”

She added she’s thankful for the kindness and caring she’s received from the man she helped save and his wife, the couple who now she calls her friends. 

“God put me there for a reason. But all the recognition and all the love from them has been overwhelming in such a positive way,” she said. “I’m just thankful for them.”

Categories: News You Can Use, Sandoval Regional Medical Center, Top Stories