FOXBORO, Mass. (WPRI) — Anthony Colella was in the right place at the right time.
The Johnston firefighter and devout New England Patriots fan was at Gillette Stadium Sunday night when he noticed something unusual.
“We were standing up and were ready to watch the game when I saw a commotion over my left shoulder,” he recalled, adding that he saw several officers heading in that direction.
Colella said at first, he thought the officers were breaking up a fight.
But when he looked over, Colella noticed a man lying motionless on the ground surrounded by a crowd of onlookers.
“It didn’t look normal and it’s something we see every day while at work,” he said. “You can pick up right away when somebody isn’t OK.”
Without hesitation, Colella ran over to assess the situation. That’s also when he met off-duty Needham firefighter Mark McCullough.
“[McCullough] just happened to be standing right next to him,” Colella explained. “He had no idea who he was.”
Colella said the man was “pulseless” and appeared to be suffering from cardiac arrest.
The two firefighters jumped into action and performed CPR on the man for several minutes, all while Colella’s coworker, firefighter Chris Delfino, ran to grab a nearby emergency defibrillator and retired Needham Fire Chief Dennis Condon kept the crowd at bay.
“It sounded like he was trying to breathe,” Colella explained. “I looked into his mouth and saw a big piece of chewed food. I was able to, with my bare hand, reach in and pull it out.”
“Once I pulled [the food] out he took a big gasp of air,” he continued. “We rolled him over onto his side and he started breathing on his own.”
Colella was shocked when the man, though initially confused, began having a conversation with him.
“He was able to tell me his name, where he was from, his career, what type of medications he was on and his past medical history,” Colella said. “It’s not everyday where … you perform CPR on somebody and a few minutes later they’re talking to you.”
Colella said the man was then brought to a nearby hospital for treatment. He tells 12 News that, while he never expected to perform CPR at a football game, it was rewarding to help someone in need.
“The greatest feeling was when he was able to tell me his name and talk to me,” Colella said, adding that it was the first time in his four years on the job that he’d ever performed CPR outside of work. “It didn’t hit us until afterwards. We were trying to watch the game and weren’t really concerned whether Miami was going to beat New England or New England was going to beat Miami, we were worried about that gentleman and his condition.”
Colella said he’s now friends with McCullough and both men hope to one day meet the man.
“We hope to someday shake his hand and see he’s doing OK,” he said.
Colella said the man’s son reached out to him Monday afternoon to let him know his father has returned home and is “making steady progress.”