The Story Behind the Iconic 'Kiss of Life' Photo

By | April 17, 2017

Taken in 1967 by Rocco Morabito, the photo below called “The Kiss of Life” shows utility worker J.D. Thompson giving mouth-to-mouth to co-worker Randall G. Champion after the latter went unconscious following contact with a low voltage line.

The Story

The two had been performing routine maintenance when Champion accidentally brushed one of the low voltage lines at the top of the utility pole. He went unconscious, fortunately, his safety harness prevented a fall. Thompson, who had been ascending below him, quickly reached Champion and performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Thompson was unable to perform CPR given the circumstances, but he breathed into Champion’s lungs until he felt a slight pulse, then unbuckled his harness and carried him down on his shoulders. Thompson and another worker administered CPR on the ground, and Champion was moderately revived by the time paramedics arrived, eventually making a full recovery.

Champion lived an extra 35 years. He died in 2002 at the age of 64. Thompson is still alive today.

The Photographer

Rocco Morabito was driving on West 26th Street in July 1967 on another assignment when he looked up and saw Champion dangling from the pole. He called an ambulance and grabbed his camera.

“I passed these men working and went on to my assignment”, says Morabito. “I took eight photos at the strike. I thought I’d go back and see if I could rind another picture”.

But when Morabito went back to the linemen, “I heard screaming. I looked up and I saw this man hanging down. Oh my God. I didn’t know what to do. I took a picture right quick. J.D. Thompson was running toward the pole. I went to my car and called an ambulance. I got back to the pole and J.D. was breathing into Champion. I backed off, way off until I hit a house and I couldn’t go any farther. I took another picture. Then I heard Thompson shouting down: He’s breathing!”.

Rocco Morabito won the 1968 Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography for “The Kiss of Life”. The photograph was published in  newspapers around the world.

Morabito, born in Port Chester, New York, moved to Florida when he was 5, and by age 10 was working as a newsboy, selling papers for the Jacksonville Journal. He served in World War II in the Army Air Forces as a ball-turret gunner on a B-17. After the war, he returned to the Jacksonville Journal and started his photography career shooting sporting events for the paper. He worked for the Journal for 42 years, 33 of them as a photographer, until retiring in 1982. Morabito died on April 5, 2009 while in hospice care.

Interesting facts:

--Today mouth-to-mouth resuscitation is unnecessary and American Heart Association (AHA) don’t recommend using it anymore. One of the big factors in the AHA’s decision to lessen the importance of ventilation in the newest resuscitation guidelines, was to make it easier and more likely for bystanders to actually perform CPR. The studies showed that many people would not perform CPR on a stranger because of the mouth-to-mouth part. By reducing the importance, they hope that more people will perform chest compressions, which by themselves can be very effective.

--The lines above are Low Voltage (50-1000 Volts) and not High Voltage (HV). The worker is working on a transformer. In order to work on the HV part of a transformer, you need an Access Permit (name may change with countries), a document following a strict set of procedures to turn the power off. A High Voltage flash causes massive burns and a huge fireball. The clothes burn away to nothing and hair is burnt off.

--In the industry, there is no rescue procedure for HV shock, because by the time it takes to turn the power off to safely retrieve the victim, they are already burned. Their best chance is if they are blown off the pole from the explosion and treated right then.

H/T rarehistoricalphotos