WILSONVILLE, Ore. -- A Wilsonville man is being called a hero after his quick thinking may have saved the life of notable Portland philanthropist Arlene Schnitzer.
Schnitzer is one of Portland’s most generous donors. She has given millions of dollars to numerous arts, science and education projects and is the namesake of the Arlene Schnitzer concert Hall.
Now, Schnitzer is calling Tom Smith her “guardian angel.”
Smith works at the Wilsonville Target. Late last week, he popped into Burger King on his lunch break, where the manager gave him a free beverage.
“After he gave me the free soda, I felt like I need to pay it forward, you know, which was ironic because I hear somebody coughing suddenly,” he said. “I knew at that time, it was kind of a do-or-die situation.”
Smith found a woman choking. He didn’t know it at the time, but that woman was Schnitzer.
“I just ran over there and I remember looking into her eyes and saying Ma'am, can you breathe? She couldn't say anything and her lips started turning blue,” Tom recalled. “So I kind of said, ‘I'm going to give you the Heimlich,’ not knowing really how to do it.”
But Smith was able to help Schnitzer. Then, he walked back to Target and went back to work.
Smith’s boss, Store Team Leader Rylan Rankin, said Tom’s heroics didn’t surprise him.
“What was not surprising was that Tom was the one to jump into action, if you will. If I had to pick anyone that would be doing that, Tom would be one of the first ones to come to mind,” Rankin said.
Arlene Schnitzer agreed. KGW reached her while she was traveling in New York, and through a statement she said, “I’m so grateful Tom acted when nobody else did. To me, he’s a guardian angel and I’m thankful he was there when I needed him.”
Smith said he was happy to help.
“Saving a lady in and of itself was awesome, but to find out she's this philanthropist and everything else is amazing, being able to help someone who has helped so many just blows me away,” he said.
Before leaving on her trip to New York, Schnitzer went from store to store looking for Smith to thank him. She did not know where he worked, only that he worked in the area. She was finally able to locate him, and left her contact information at the Wilsonville Target.
Days later, she was able to thank him when they spoke.