Unsung Hero: He quickly identified his dad’s heart attack and took decisive action

A Scout poses with his parents.
Matthew Westfall and his parents, David and Carrie.

Matthew Westfall woke up to a text from his dad: “I don’t feel good.”

“Where are you?” Matthew wrote back.

Matthew found his dad working in the pasture out on their ranch. David Westfall said he was OK — just short of breath.

“So I told him to sleep, and I worked a little bit,” Matthew says. “But when I went back to check on him, he started grabbing his chest and yelling. So I asked again: ‘Are you OK? What’s going on?'”

By this point, Matthew was getting concerned. They had been burning brush, so Matthew made sure the fire was completely extinguished and again went to check on his dad.

“I found him grabbing his chest and complaining about his arm and yelling really loud,” Matthew says. “That’s when I knew he was in the middle of a heart attack.”

Looking back, David says he remembers thinking it was nothing serious — just exhaustion, perhaps. He had been working all morning.

“I was getting tired, my chest would burn every so often, but I continued to work thinking I was just tired,” he says. “A little more time passed, and Matthew told me to stop working. He felt it was my heart, but I continued.”

This is a good reminder that when it comes to possible cardiac events, it’s better to be safe than sorry. If you notice the symptoms of a heart attack in yourself or a loved one, call 911 right away.

Heading to the hospital

Ignoring David’s refusals, Matthew found his dad’s car keys, got the car and helped his dad inside. Matthew is 15 and has a Texas learner’s permit, meaning he can legally drive when accompanied by an adult.

“He got me into the car, and we headed to the La Grange hospital [St. Mark’s Medical Center],” David says. “He had never driven in La Grange and never driven on a two-way feeder. But if he was nervous, I didn’t know. He got me to the hospital and walked me in, letting them I was having a heart attack.”

In the emergency room, the doctor and nurses asked Matthew a bunch of questions. Matthew was able to open his dad’s phone and find an app containing his health history.

“They said that was really helpful information,” Matthew says. “They let me know I was correct. He was in the middle of a massive heart attack and needed to go to another hospital by helicopter.”

While Matthew called his mom to give her the latest information, the doctors prepared to transport David to St. Davids Medical Center in Austin.

David was in surgery just 30 minutes after his son had taken him to the first hospital in La Grange.

“I had 100% blockage and am sure Matthew saved my life,” David says. “I’m so grateful that Matthew remained calm throughout this entire ordeal and that Matthew recognized the signs of a heart attack from his Scout experiences. He knew what he needed to do.”

For smart and speedy thinking that likely saved his father’s life, Matthew, a member of Troop 533 of Cypress, Texas, received the Medal of Merit from the Sam Houston Area Council.

A Scout holds his Medal of Merit certificate

Scouting skills at work

The incident happened on Nov. 21, 2021. Looking back, Matthew says he would’ve responded the same way with anyone who needed medical attention — whether they’re his dad or not.

“I feel that Scouting taught several things — including the signs of a heart attack and how to calmly assess the situation,” Matthew says. “It’s important to stay calm, cool and collected in a crisis.”

While his dad took the helicopter to Austin, Matthew waited at the La Grange hospital for his mom to pick him up. They drove together and arrived to find David recovering from his surgery.

Carrie Westfall says she is incredibly proud of her son and grateful for his Scouting experience, which she says saved her husband’s life.

“The doctors and ER nurses all congratulated Matthew on his calm demeanor and level head during the entire event,” Carrie says. ” I don’t think that I, as an adult, would’ve handled the situation as calmly as Matthew did. He took care of business all while seeing and hearing his own father in immense pain and knowing the potential outcomes of heart attacks.”

BSA Safety Moment

Do you know what to do if a heart attack — a very real and common crisis — happens in your presence?

Review this BSA Safety Moment today, because you just might save a life tomorrow.

One more note about driving to the hospital during a heart attack. Most experts don’t recommend it. If you call an ambulance, EMS personnel can start helping you or your loved one right away. They’ll also alert the hospital that you’re coming so they can prepare.

A Medal of Merit certificate

Share your Unsung Heroes story

Stories like these brighten my day — especially because I know this kind of thing happens regularly in Scouting.

Here’s how to share the news of an Unsung Hero in your pack, troop or crew:

  1. Send an email to me with the subject line “Unsung Heroes.”
  2. Include a detailed summary of the heroic act.
  3. Include any “supporting documentation” you can. Examples include links to a story in your local newspaper, paperwork for a Scouting heroism award nomination or eyewitness accounts.
  4. Include high-res photos of the Unsung Hero.

Thanks to Matt Maranto, council chair of meritorious awards for the Sam Houston Area Council, for the tip.

About Bryan Wendell 3269 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.