Right place, right time: Heart surgeon witnesses runner collapse amid cardiac arrest, saves his life

Tuan Pham says it was truly miraculous to have a cardiothoracic surgeon witness his cardiac arrest.

ByAmanda Palacios KABC logo
Friday, October 27, 2023
Long Beach runner saved by doctor after collapsing during the race
A cardiothoracic surgeon saved a runner after collapsing and going into cardiac arrest during the 39th Long Beach Marathon.

LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Tuan Pham is a 47-year-old avid runner who has completed six half-marathons over the past three years. The San Pedro resident says the Long Beach half-marathon was going to be his seventh race that he and his son had been training hard for. But little did he know, it would be a race against his health.

"All I remember was feeling good and then waking up in the hospital," Pham said.

Pham says he was on mile 11 of the race, eager to meet his son at the finish line. He only had two miles left to go when all of a sudden he collapsed and went into cardiac arrest.

"I felt great. I have no idea what happened," Pham said.

The American Heart Association says the odds of surviving a cardiac arrest are less than 12%. Pham says it was truly miraculous to have Dr. Ryan Chiu, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Long Beach Medical Center witness the event.

"I was just walking out when the marathon was being run there at Ocean Boulevard and I saw one of the runners stumble in front of me, and collapse on the ground," said Dr. Chiu.

"There was some divine intervention. I mean somebody put us there together," Pham said.

Dr. Chiu says Pham didn't have a pulse so he immediately started CPR. Pham was taken to Long Beach Medical Center where doctors found he had significant coronary artery disease.

"Both my parents died from heart disease. But I have physicals all the time and all the numbers were fine, so I had no idea," Pham said.

Dr. Chiu performed a triple bypass surgery on Pham and presented him with a Long Beach Marathon medal, donated by a community member who participated in the race.

"I didn't hesitate. Something in me said he needed my medal. He needed it more than I did," said Long Beach Marathon participant Pete Bacol.

Pham says he beat all odds against him and it feels like he won the lottery. Even though he wasn't able to finish the race, Dr. Chiu says he won the most important race of all, his health.

"Being alive is probably the best outcome of all of this," Pham said.