“A true hero among us”: Dartmouth Health cardiology fellow honored for saving life of man who crashed vehicle during cardiac arrest

Thara S. Ali, MD, Terry Dion, and Lebanon Police Officer Eric Hunter
From left, Thara S. Ali, MD, Terry Dion, and Lebanon Police Officer Eric Hunter

About 350,000 Americans suffer cardiac arrest outside a hospital annually, according to the American Heart Association. The prognosis for these people is grim: only about 10 percent survive the event. But for one Enfield, NH, man, what could have been the last day of his life happened in the right place at the right time.

On February 10, 2023, Terry Dion, 69, was driving on Interstate 89 in Lebanon when he went into cardiac arrest. He lost control of his vehicle and went off the highway. Little did he know that driving not far behind was Thara S. Ali, MD, a cardiology fellow at Dartmouth Health’s Heart & Vascular Center at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC).

As Ali drove closer to the scene, she observed another driver had pulled off and appeared to be performing CPR on Dion. She pulled over and noticed that the Good Samaritan’s chest compressions were too shallow. She explained she was a cardiologist in training and took over CPR. Other motorists started to pull off to help, including one who had a portable automated external defibrillator (AED) in their vehicle, which Ali was able to defibrillate Dion with.

EMTs arrived shortly after and took Dion to DHMC—where Ali would see him again later that day in the cardiac catheterization laboratory and assisted in deploying a stent to open up a blocked artery in Dion’s heart. Thanks to Ali’s heroic actions, performing CPR and AED long enough to keep Dion alive, he survived and is expected to make a full recovery.

“I feel really grateful for the outcome of what happened and that I was able to do that for Terry,” Ali said. “This is what I trained for as a cardiologist, but anyone can save a life by learning CPR.”

At a ceremony hosted by DHMC on Thursday, June 1, Ali was presented an award by the Lebanon Fire Department for her lifesaving actions, who called her “a true hero among us.”

“Not only has Dr. Ali committed her life to improving the lives of people every day through her work as a cardiologist, she has contributed to saving a life on her own personal time,” said Fire Chief Jim Wheatley. Wheatley also presented an award to Lebanon Police Officer Eric Hunter, who assisted Ali at the scene.

The award ceremony coincided with the kickoff of National CPR and AED Awareness Week, a nationwide effort to encourage people from all walks of life to learn CPR and how to use an AED, and improve the odds for people who suffer cardiac arrest outside a hospital.

“We are incredibly proud of Dr. Ali for her heroic actions that saved Mr. Dion’s life,” said David B. Min, MD, section chief of cardiology at the Heart and Vascular Center. “In the Heart and Vascular Center, we train fellows to be of service to people in need inside our hospital and out in the world, which is exactly what she did. But this is also an important reminder that you don’t need to be a cardiologist to learn CPR. Anyone can be equipped with this lifesaving skill.”

About Dartmouth Health

Dartmouth Health, New Hampshire's only academic health system and the state's largest private employer, serves patients across northern New England. Dartmouth Health provides access to more than 2,000 providers in almost every area of medicine, delivering care at its flagship hospital, Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) in Lebanon, NH, as well as across its wide network of hospitals, clinics and care facilities. DHMC is consistently named the #1 hospital in New Hampshire by U.S. News & World Report, and recognized for high performance in numerous clinical specialties and procedures. Dartmouth Health includes Dartmouth Cancer Center, one of only 56 National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the nation, and the only such center in northern New England; Dartmouth Health Children’s, which includes Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, the state’s only children’s hospital, and multiple clinic locations around the region; member hospitals in Lebanon, Keene and New London, NH, and Bennington and Windsor, VT; Visiting Nurse and Hospice for Vermont and New Hampshire; and more than 24 clinics that provide ambulatory services across New Hampshire and Vermont. Through its historical partnership with Dartmouth and the Geisel School of Medicine, Dartmouth Health trains nearly 400 medical residents and fellows annually, and performs cutting-edge research and clinical trials recognized across the globe with Geisel and the White River Junction VA Medical Center in White River Junction, VT. Dartmouth Health and its more than 13,000 employees are deeply committed to serving the healthcare needs of everyone in our communities, and to providing each of our patients with exceptional, personal care.