The Kiss of Life Photograph

The Kiss of Life, 1967. (Photo by Rocco Morabito).

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

They had been performing routine maintenance when Champion brushed one of the low voltage lines at the very top of the utility pole. His safety harness prevented a fall, and Thompson, who had been ascending below him, quickly reached him and performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

He was unable to perform CPR given the circumstances, but continued breathing into Champion’s lungs until he felt a slight pulse, then unbuckled his harness and descended with him on his shoulder. Thompson and another worker administered CPR on the ground, and Champion was moderately revived by the time paramedics arrived, eventually making a full recovery.

What’s even more incredible is Champion not only survived this thanks to Thompson, but he lived an extra 35 years. He died in 2002 at 64 years old. Thompson is still alive today.

Rocco Morabito was driving on West 26th Street in July 1967 on another assignment when he 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 pictures at the strike. I thought I’d go back and see if I could rind another picture”.

But when Morabito gets 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 quickly. 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!”.

The Kiss of Life Photograph

Morabito captured the scene in a series of five photos. The photos ran on Page 13 inside the Jacksonville Journal on the same day. The second photo from the left ran on the front page of the same paper and was dubbed “The Kiss of Life”.

Morabito snapped a series of photos as Thompson struggled to save his friend’s life by giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Finally, Champion “started gasping and seemed to come back,” Randall remembered. Champion went to the hospital with burns. 

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.

The Kiss of Life Photograph

Rocco Morabito with his famous photograph.

Lineman Randall Champion and J.D. Thompson worked for JEA for 30 years. The two stayed friends and even became close with Morabito.

The three were photographed together in 1988 to mark the last day of publication of the Jacksonville Journal — even though Champion was in the hospital recovering from bypass surgery at the time.

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 (HV) 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.

The Kiss of Life Photograph

Champion, Thompson, and Morabito gathered in 1988 to commemorate the last day of the Jacksonville Journal.

Today mouth-to-mouth resuscitation is unnecessary and American Heart Association (AHA) doesn’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.

(Photo credit: Rocco Morabito / Jacksonville Journal).