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How the Rays’ communications manager saved a fan’s life

Ryan Sheets performed the Heimlich maneuver on a man who was choking on his food before Tuesday’s game.
Ryan Sheets spent 4 years in the Air Force before going into baseball. [MARC TOPKIN | Times]
Ryan Sheets spent 4 years in the Air Force before going into baseball. [MARC TOPKIN | Times]
Published Mar. 7, 2019
Updated Mar. 8, 2019

PORT CHARLOTTE — Rays communications manager Ryan Sheets figured to have his hands full escorting two players to a season ticketholder event in the leftfield concourse before Tuesday’s game.

He ended up saving a fan’s life.

Sheets, 30, rushed into action to perform the Heimlich maneuver after being alerted to an elderly fan who was choking on his food.

“I was handing (pitcher Emilio) Pagan his pullover, and all of a sudden there was this guy and his plate of food went everywhere and this kind of scene that erupted,’’ Sheets explained. “His wife started shouting that he was choking. I just happened to be the closest guy, so she grabbed me by the arm. Once I realized that nobody was kidding and this was actually happening, I grabbed him. I’m not exactly a first-aid expert or anything like that, but I have a foggy idea of how a Heimlich is supposed to work. So I did the Heimlich four-five times and heard his wife saying (the stuck item) was coming up.’’

As the man rested for a few minutes leaning on a nearby fence, Sheets summoned an EMT to have him checked out, and he felt good enough to stay for part of the game.

Sheets, who spent four years in the Air Force as an avionics technician, said he wasn’t sure if he was being too rough on the 70-something man.

“As it was happening I was thinking that maybe I was going to really hurt this guy, but as it was going on I was thinking, what’s worse?’’ Sheets said. “And I was thinking what would happen if I took it too easy on him and I failed? I would feel responsible for a long time.’’

Pagan said he noticed the man in distress and the wife screaming but before he could do anything about it saw Sheets leap into action.

“I don’t want to say it was awesome because the guy was dying, but at the same time, thank God Sheets was there,'' Pagan said. "It wasn’t something to take lightly. He saved his life, for sure. … He’s a hero.’’

Sheets said his military training and experience at Tyndall Air Force Base didn’t really prepare him for this situation.

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“We got first-aid training, but it was not really centered around the Heimlich as much as like bullet wounds,’’ he said. “So I could do a tourniquet but was not so up on choking.’’

Sheets said the man and his wife thanked him (though never gave their names) and also told the stadium staff of his heroics.

“They came over and found me a few minutes later to say thanks,’’ Sheets said. “The first thing he said to me was, 'I believe we’ve met. And now you’ve got a story to tell people.’ ‘’

Actually, they both do.