The Heartbeat of Heroism

  • Published
  • By Maj. Andrea Kostiuk
  • 133rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Women’s History Month serves as a platform for honoring the enduring impact of women across history. This story unfolds as a living testament to that history in the making.

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Natalie Dornan, First. Sgt., 133rd Maintenance Group, and U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Emily Berg, Crew Chief, 133rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, were two of over 125 members headed out the door for a three-month deployment on August 23, 2023. Gathered with fellow deployers and family members in the dining facility, American Legion volunteers served breakfast while everyone shared a final meal together before parting ways.

Suddenly, American Legion volunteer and Navy Veteran Ken Gibson went limp, falling against a desk next to his wife, Sandra. He was having a heart attack.

Dornan, also an Emergency Medical Technician, and Berg, an ICU nurse in her civilian career, jumped into action, quickly lowering him to the ground and directing others to get the AED and call 911. Working together, Dornan assessed and provided initial treatment to Gibson, who stopped breathing on multiple occasions and was going into shock; meanwhile, Berg gathered a medical history from his wife while providing emotional support.

Upon arrival, paramedics received a detailed medical handoff and whisked Gibson away to the hospital. Dornan and Berg had about 20 minutes to grab their final bags before heading to the plane for departure. It would be another 24 hours before they received an update on his status.

“We both believe that the years of training the Air Force has given us, along with our medical training, is the reason we were able to seamlessly transition from the deployment mindset to emergency responders and back again,” Dornan said. “The saying ‘always ready’ really hit home.”

Despite his heart stopping four times on the way to the hospital, Gibson is a fighter and survived. On March 2, 2024, the four were reunited at the 133rd Airlift Wing.

Standing before the 133rd Maintenance Group, Sandra tearfully relived the scary experience, thanking Dornan and Berg for their quick response to Ken’s medical emergency. “He missed the lovely people caring for him,” she said. “If it weren’t for you, he wouldn’t be here today.”

Fighting back tears this time, Ken finally got to hug Berg and Dornan, the Airmen who saved his life. After presenting them both with a Certificate of Appreciation, he smiled, giving the audience a thumbs up. And then, Dornan and Berg hugged each other, bonded over an experience that not only saved someone’s life but impacted their own.

“Emily and I both come from military families and truly love serving. We understand the sacrifices that families make, and to directly impact Ken and Sandra’s lives was an honor,” Dornan later shared. “Emily and I were just doing our jobs, but this was a good reminder for both of us that how we respond and what we do truly matters.”