Closure: Family Wants to Show Thanks
Gale and Richard Harris have decided to do something to show their thanks for the efforts of some strangers who tried to save their father's life just before Christmas.
Thomas Harris, who was 85, collapsed Dec. 23 on a busy downtown Southern Pines sidewalk, the victim of a heart attack. Despite what they called the "heroic" efforts of some business people and local paramedics, Harris died at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital on Christmas Day.
No one knew that day who he was or whether he lived or died.
Gale Harris said she, her brother, and their father's longtime companion, Marian Ebner, plan to make a donation to the local HeartSafe Moore effort to purchase an automatic external defibrillator (AED) for the downtown area. They were aware that one of the devices was used on their father.
"We know there is a need in the community to get more of these AED devices," Gale Harris said earlier this week. "We want to make a donation that might not have saved his life, but might save someone else's life."
Thomas Harris collapsed in front of the Emmanuel Episcopal Church Thrift Shop on North East Broad Street. Andy Austin, a former emergency medical technician who manages the nearby That's a Deli, sprang into action and began administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). He worked to revive the man for 15 minutes, getting him to take a few breaths.
Anthony Parks, who owns The Ice Cream Parlor just across the railroad tracks, ran to the Southern Pines town administration office a block away and grabbed an external defibrillator. Austin used it a couple of times on Harris until paramedics arrived. They took him to the hospital.
Paramedics were able to get Harris' heart beating again, but he never regained consciousness, according to his son, who lives in Utica, N.Y. But the efforts of those who tried to save their father's life bought them enough time to get down to Southern Pines.
"We were able to be with him when he died," he said.
Harris said that he and his sister, who lives in nearby Scotia, N.Y., personally thanked Austin and Parks a few days after Christmas for trying to save their father's life. That was when Austin and Parks learned that the man had died.
"We are very appreciative," Richard Harris said. "This helped bring some closure for us. We read the article in The Pilot (Dec. 26) about what happened. We knew he had been out doing some things that day."
Gale Harris said they know others also tried to help.
"We just want to thank everyone publicly for what they did to help my father," she said. "It made us feel good that so many people tried to help him."
Their father retired to Southern Pines in 1984. He loved golf and gardening, according to his daughter. His wife of 44 years, Leona, died in 1989.
"We just want to do something to show our thanks to this community," Gale Harris said. "He truly loved living in Southern Pines."
Austin and Parks both described meeting Richard and Gale Harris as "very emotional."
"It brought some closure for me, too," Austin said. "Even though it was a sad situation, something good is going to come out of this."
Austin said he knew when Thomas Harris collapsed that "it didn't look good." He had started turning blue. But at the very least, Austin added, the man remained alive until his children could get here.
"It wasn't all in vain," he said.
Parks said that meeting the two in person "brought it all back from that day, the images of it. It was a difficult day (Dec. 23). I felt their pain. I lost my father a few years ago. I know how they felt."
He said the incident illustrates the need to have more AEDs downtown.
"That machine is amazing," he said. "Ever since that day, when people would tell me that Andy and I were heroes for what we did, I have tried to tell people about these AEDs. I want people to know about them. A minute or two could have saved his life, if one had been closer."
That might now be possible.
Buddy Spong, executive director of the Moore County Chapter of the American Red Cross and a member of HeartSafe Moore, said Wednesday that he spoke with Gale Harris and that arrangements are being made for them to donate money to buy one of the devices, which cost about $1,500. He hopes it can be placed somewhere in the area where their father collapsed, with a plaque to remember him.
Currently, there are about seven AEDs placed around downtown, but not all of them are accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week, according to Spong. The group's goal is to have 10 to 12 of them in place to be able to declare the town "heart safe."
"We want it to be so that anywhere in the downtown, you are within one or two minutes of one of these devices," Spong said. "I told her (Gale Harris) that the silver lining in all of this is that it has raised more awareness of the need for AEDs, and that this will make it possible for us to accomplish what we have set out to do."
Contact David Sinclair at 693-2462 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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