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Pittsburgh heart attack patient looks for mystery helper

| Thursday, March 13, 2014, 11:48 p.m.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Ray Conley, 47, of Mt. Washington stands on Thursday, March 13, 2014, near the area where had a heart attack and collapsed near Grant Street last week. He tried to get passers-by to call 911, but no one would — except one woman.

Ray Conley clutched his chest and stared up at the passing faces as he collapsed Downtown outside the U.S. Steel Tower.

Nobody stopped. Conley was breathless and incoherent, so perhaps passers-by thought he was drunk, he theorized days later. In reality, he was close to death with congestive heart failure.

Nobody would help, he said, except for one woman who was waiting for a bus on Grant Street.

“I would have died on those steps if she hadn't come over,” said Conley, 47, of Mt. Washington. “She said, ‘Someone call 911,' and she came over and grabbed my hand and started talking to me.”

Conley's brush with death was one week ago, about 4:30 p.m. March 7.

He lost consciousness before paramedics loaded him into an ambulance and rushed him to UPMC Mercy. When he awoke 24 hours later, doctors explained what happened.

“I had a very minor heart attack in August, brought on by high blood pressure, and they think this happened because I have pneumonia and I didn't know I had it, and it started overworking my heart,” Conley said. “They kept me under for a day so they could intubate me and clear out my lungs.”

Once the diagnosis settled in, Conley turned his focus to the woman.

Nobody in the hospital knew who she was.

“They said they were in such a rush to get me there that they didn't have time to get names,” Conley said. “I would love to talk to her. I want to thank her for actually being a human being, not what we've all become, where we're so afraid to get involved in anything that we just turn a blind eye.”

Pittsburgh Emergency Medical Services officials confirm Conley's version of what happened but said they do not know the woman's identity.

A police officer directing traffic nearby responded, but Public Safety spokeswoman Sonya Toler said the department has no information.

Conley is certain he would recognize the woman if he saw her.

She wore glasses and had short, light-colored hair. He heard her tell a U.S. Steel Tower security guard that she is a registered nurse, but she wore business attire, not scrubs.

“She knelt by me and kept talking to me, holding my hand,” Conley said. “She said, ‘Stay calm. I know you're scared, but stay calm because we have help on the way.'

“I couldn't talk. I could barely breathe. But she said, ‘You're going to be all right.' ”

Conley wants to thank her. He posted a message on his Facebook page detailing the experience and asking friends to repost. He got some leads, including a friend who believes he knows the woman, but the mystery nurse did not respond to Conley's Facebook message.

“Hopefully, I find her,” he said. “I want to thank her for seeing a person is in trouble, seeing that he needed help, and actually doing something.”

Chris Togneri is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5632 or ctogneri@tribweb.com.

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