By Shannon M. Nass
When Machell Swoager of Hookstown went to her waitressing job one recent evening, she had no idea that in addition to serving food she would save a life.
While on shift at the Hyatt Regency's Olive Press restaurant at Pittsburgh International Airport in Findlay, an elderly female patron whom Mrs. Swoager had been waiting on became ill.
Mrs. Swoager's prompt response and extraordinary efforts to care for the guest earned her the distinction as the first-quarter winner in Pittsburgh International Airport's N.I.C.E. (Neutralizing Irritations Customers Experience) Program by the Allegheny County Airport Authority.
For her efforts, Mrs. Swoager received a $50 American Express Card and will be recognized at the airport's N.I.C.E. event in spring 2013.
The Beaver County woman was nominated by Jeff Lancaster and Tim Llewellyn of the Allegheny County Airport Authority fire department who responded to the scene.
Mrs. Swoager said the honor came as a surprise and while she appreciates the recognition, it was the last thing on her mind that night.
"It was shocking," she said. "I don't understand why they're making a big deal of it. I didn't think twice about it. It's normal for us to do those kinds of things."
Mrs. Swoager, who has worked at the Hyatt for 11 years, recalled the events that led to her nomination.
The female patron was dining alone that evening while her husband was on a business trip about three hours away. Mrs. Swoager, who had regularly waited on the patron and developed a friendship with her, said she became concerned when the woman complained of seeing double.
Recognizing that the woman was in medical trouble, she walked her to her room and called for help.
Firefighters responded and upon evaluation of her vital signs, they suggested she go to Sewickley Valley Hospital.
While waiting for an ambulance to arrive, the woman expressed some worry about going to the hospital alone and wondered how she would return to the hotel once she was released as she didn't want her husband to cut his business trip short.
Mrs. Swoager offered to escort her to the hospital and stay with her as long as she was there. Mrs. Swoager said the woman appeared nervous as she underwent various tests at the hospital, so she stayed by her side and helped calm her fears.
Upon being treated and released, Mrs. Swoager drove her back to her room around 1:30 a.m., and then called her later that day to ensure she was feeling well.
Her actions were heroic, but Mrs. Swoager described them as selfish.
"If I didn't do something and there was something seriously wrong with her, I would never have forgiven myself," she said.
"I did it really for my own peace of mind to make sure she was OK. I just couldn't imagine her being there by herself."
Mrs. Swoager described the woman as cantankerous and said she feared the woman would be upset with her for calling the medics.
In the end, however, the couple was nothing but grateful and expressed their appreciation by thanking her profusely and sending flowers to her.
"We really care about these people who come in there. They are not just a customer," Mrs. Swoager said. "I think that's why they like coming [to the Hyatt] because we're like a family there. We treat our regular customers like they're part of our family. That's just what we do."