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Marine, 58, details moments before his heart stopped on a run and how a stranger saved him

The lifesaving coincidence "renews your faith in humanity," said General Eric Smith.
/ Source: TODAY

Last fall, General Eric Smith, 58, a U.S. Marine, went for his usual three-mile around the Capitol in Washington, D.C. But that afternoon, Smith didn't make it home.

Just a block from his house, Smith collapsed and lost consciousness.

The last thing he remembers from that day is going for the run, Gen. Smith told TODAY's Craig Melvin during a May 10, 2024 segment. "I don't remember going down," he said.

Moments later, Joyce LaLonde and her brother Tim LaLonde, a certified CPR instructor, spotted Smith lying unconscious. The family had been out celebrating at a restaurant after running the Marine Corps Marathon that morning. Coincidentally, Trish Smith, the general's wife, had also run the ultramarathon that day and General Smith had spent his morning cheering on the participants.

"My sister started calling 911 and my dad joined us," Tim LaLonde told the TODAY Show. "We started assessing the person to see what was wrong and could tell that they weren't breathing," Tim LaLonde recalled. "They weren't responsive, so we started CPR."

Tim LaLonde kept up the chest compressions for nearly 10 minutes until an ambulance arrived.

Trish Smith had actually spotted the commotion outside her home, but didn't realize it was her husband that was being rushed to a hospital.

"I was kind of in shock, but I just said, he's a strong person and he was going to make it," she recalled. Before she got to the hospital, the medical staff had been treating Smith as a John Doe — unaware that he was one of the country's top generals.

Ultimately, the medical team and the LaLonde family who just happened to be walking by at the right time all helped save the general's life. Doctors diagnosed him with a faulty heart valve.

Recently, General Smith and Tim LaLonde had a chance to reunite for the first time since the event. The two shook hands, and Tim LaLonde remained humble about the vital role he played that day. "There's a lot of people that helped contribute," he told Melvin. "I'm very proud of my family."

Looking back on the lifesaving coincidence, "it makes me appreciate what I have all the more," Smith said. "It makes me appreciate my wife, my children, all the Marines (and it) makes you appreciate the goodness of society."

And Smith hopes that, by sharing his story, more people will get trained to provide CPR. Knowing that his life was saved by strangers "just renews your faith in humanity," he said.