Helping others, again and again

Rodney Tabaniag trained as an EMT, just in case. On Friday, the American Airlines customer service agent won his sixth company award for taking potentially life-saving actions on the job.

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Rodney Tabaniag, an American Airlines customer service agent, at O’Hare Airport on Friday, April 22, 2022. The airline presented him with its Real American Hero award for his actions during medical emergencies. It was the sixth time he’s won the award.

Rodney Tabaniag, an American Airlines customer service agent, at O’Hare Airport on Friday. The airline presented him with its Real American Hero award for his actions during medical emergencies. It was the sixth time he’s won the award.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

After seeing plenty of travelers needing emergency assistance, American Airlines customer service agent Rodney Tabaniag wanted to be able to do more.

So he enrolled in EMT classes at the City Colleges of Chicago.

Turns out, that training did indeed come in handy.

In the roughly seven years since he graduated, he’s been able to take potentially life-saving actions on the job more than once.

Six times, in fact.

On Friday, Tabaniag was honored by the airline again with its “Real American Hero” award.

Tabaniag won it for the first time in 2018, after helping a man who suffered a seizure.

Since then, his award-winning actions have included giving first aid to a man who collapsed at a gate and another three incidents just last year. In August, he stabilized a man who appeared to stop breathing and stayed with him until paramedics got there to help. The very next month, he helped perform CPR on a woman who lost consciousness at her gate. He continued CPR until she regained her pulse and paramedics arrived.

About 200 American Airlines employees get the award each year. Many never win one at all.

The award comes with a $1,000 bonus — and a “hero’s cape.”

Managing Director of Customer Care Ralph Hashbun (right) gives Rodney Tabaniag a ceremonial cape for winning the Real American Hero award. Friday, April 22, 2022.

Managing Director of Customer Care Ralph Hashbun (right) gives Rodney Tabaniag a ceremonial cape for winning the company’s Real American Hero award on Friday.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Tabaniag’s most recent award is for yet another heroic event.

In February, Tabaniag heard someone scream for help. He turned to see a man sliding off his seat, losing consciousness. When Tabaniag checked him, the man was cold and clammy.

All are classic symptoms of a hypoglycemic event, he said — when a diabetic person’s blood sugar becomes very low. Tabaniag got him some orange juice and stabilized him before paramedics arrived.

Although Tabaniag has grown more confident in his skills, emergencies still can be nerve-wracking.

“In a way, you’re still not prepared for something like that to happen, because you really don’t want to see somebody go down that way,” Tabaniag said.

He said one time struck particularly close to home.

It occurred while he was helping a passenger who had a heart attack. Someone else lending assistance grabbed the man’s phone to look for friends or family to contact.

On the phone, Tabaniag saw a picture of the man’s family. He thinks of that moment to this day.

“Things like that would happen, and you want to help. But you don’t know what to do, so you feel helpless,” Tabaniag said. “I also was thinking that I would like to know what to do so I can help people. And at the same time, if it would happen to someone in my family, I would like to know what to do.”

Tabaniag said winning the award is always bittersweet, resulting as it does from a scary moment in someone else’s life.

“You are able to help someone in their darkest hour,” he said, “and you just got lucky and hopefully helped them to see another day.”

Rodney Tabaniag got a round of applause from some of his co-workers on Friday, April 22, 2022 after he was presented with his sixth Real American Hero award.

Rodney Tabaniag got a round of applause from some of his co-workers on Friday after he was presented with his sixth Real American Hero award.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times


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