TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. – When Paige Graham saw her dad go into cardiac arrest, she didn’t hesitate. The 19-year-old Groton resident began chest compressions and kept going until an ambulance arrived to take over. Graham was presented with the first-ever Tompkins County Champion Award in recognition of her “exceptional courage, presence of mind, and swiftness in action” at a meeting of the legislature’s Public Safety Committee on Thursday.

The award was created by the sheriff’s office to honor community members who show courage and poise while responding to emergency situations.

“In our line of work, we deal with emergency situations all the time. They have become second nature to us. That being said, I believe it is important to especially honor those that do not have the training we have and react in such a way that displays outstanding skill in an emergency situation and still manage to maintain a calm demeanor in the face of it,” said Sheriff Derek Osborne.

Osborne commended Graham for her heroic response when her dad, Bruce Graham, suddenly went into cardiac arrest. Doctors said the teen’s swift and steady action likely saved her father’s life.

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Recounting the day of the emergency, Paige and her mother, Loretta, said it started out like any other. The family went to school and work, but they were at home when suddenly everything changed.

“I was sitting on the couch, and next thing you know my dad goes into cardiac arrest. I was like what’s going on here? My mom called 911,” Paige said. While Loretta ran to the medicine cabinet for aspirin, the dispatcher asked if anyone could do CPR. By the time Loretta returned with medication, Paige was doing chest compressions.

“I’ve never done that before in my life, so I don’t really know what I’m doing,” Paige remembered. “I like to call it an act of god really, because it felt like something just took me over, kept the motions going, to have the strength to just go on.”

Paige’s mom said emergency responders told her it usually takes a group to keep compressions going, taking turns to maintain strength. “She’s amazing,” she repeated when recalling her daughter’s singular effort.

After an ambulance arrived, Bruce was transported to Cortland and then flown to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse. “The doctors at St. Joe’s said what (Paige) did, before the ambulance got there, is critical to why he’s here,” Loretta said. Emergency responders shocked Bruce seven times with a defibrillator, she said, before he underwent emergency surgery and entered a medically induced coma. “He’s quite a miracle!” she said of her husband’s recovery.

For Paige, the Champion Award was an honor but paled in comparison to her gratitude for having her father back home safely. “Honestly I was never expecting to get something like this,” she said. “I would never want to picture life without my father. He’s everything to me, and to my family … I don’t need this to prove anything at all, as long as I have my father.”

Featured image: Sheriff Osborne and Undersheriff Olin present Paige Graham with the Tompkins County Champion Award. (Devon Magliozzi/Ithaca Voice)

Devon Magliozzi

Devon Magliozzi is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at or 607-391-0328.