SA nurse helps save heart attack patient on Southwest flight

Sandra Pena reunited Tuesday with man she helped save

SAN ANTONIO – A nurse from San Antonio was reunited Tuesday with a man she helped save after he had a heart attack on board a Southwest plane.

SWA Flight 249 was about to take off from Orlando bound for San Antonio two months ago when Frank Gabler had a heart attack.

"I remember getting on, and I was seated all the way in the rear of the plane, and that's all I remember," Gabler said.

Sandra Pena, a nurse at CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Alamo Heights, was seated in front of Gabler as the plane waited on the Orlando tarmac.

"When I turned back to look at him, his face was purple and he was not breathing," Pena said.

She yelled for the pilots to stop the plane just as it was taking off. Pena, along with several other medical personnel on the plane, sprang into action to save Gabler's life.

Cardiologist Dr. Tom Lee helped resuscitate Gabler in the aisle while crew members brought the on-board defibrillator. Lee was also at Tuesday's reunion in San Antonio.

"This is what human life is all about, seeing someone that you actually helped that is grateful -- a good person who has a chance to be good a little bit longer," Lee said.

Gabler spent several days in the intensive care unit at an Orlando Hospital. He is recovering and was in San Antonio to show his appreciation to those who saved his life.

"My cardiologist, when I told him what had happened, he stopped up abruptly and said, 'Son, you better go buy a lottery ticket,'" Gabler said.

Doctors say that people who go into cardiac arrest outside a hospital have only a 2-3 percent chance of survival.

The odds were better for Gabler, thanks to Pena, Lee and the other medical personnel on board his flight.