How can one help a person that wakes up in the middle of the night gasping for air?

There should be many reasons why people wake up in the middle of the night reaching for air. One of them I believe is being overweight and another reason might be because of stress(panic attacks) I have experienced a panic attack only once and none of this compares to what my father suffered last night. Just... show more There should be many reasons why people wake up in the middle of the night reaching for air.
One of them I believe is being overweight and another reason might be because of stress(panic attacks) I have experienced a panic attack only once and none of this compares to what my father suffered last night.

Just today at 1 am I came down to my house from my room to get something to eat, my friend was with me. As we were leaving, I heard my father gasping for air. And I rushed towards him to help him somehow and I couldn't no matter how hard I tried. I think this happened for over more than a minute. My mother didn't know what to do and my friend was close to my parents room scared. I tapped on his back several times and tried to calm him down.

This might sound a bit strange, as I observed my father gasping and gasping for air he reminded me of when fishes try to reach for air. There opening their mouths and trying so hard and they just simply can't make it. After this attack went away and my father made it, I got emotional and cried over the tough that what if he would have died this way? my friend held me and calmed me down.

After this we went to my room and as we were chatting about what had just happened, she told me that although she does not know what exactly my father was experiencing she did try to pay close attention to the way he was reaching for air so weakly. She has a heart problem and told me that because of this reason she must take good care of her health. Once she went crazy eating junk food and a bit later it gave its consequences, she couldn't breathe. She told me that she made the same sound my father was giving today at 1 am. She also mentioned that it could be something serious like a heart problem or something to do with the lungs, but to go see a doctor.

I don't know how else to explain to you what my father was experiencing. I don't know what it is and this has not only happened to him but to my 23 year old brother as well. He searched in the internet after he suffered from this sort of attack instead of going to a doctor(I know)and told my father that It has to do with being overweight. My father Is overweight and my brother used to be this way just a bit. But I'm starting to think that not only because of being overweight this can happen, but as well as something to deal with the heart. my family from both sides don't have a history of heart attacks or heart problems.... It sometimes scares me to know that there's a possibility this might happen to me.

My father will go to the doctor in a little bit to see what health issue he has. If it happens again, what should I do to help my father out? Any one who has had similar situation like this or knows about it? I would appreciate your help. _mel
Update: Thank you very much ChemoAngel and SpottyJ for your useful information.
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