There was no time to spare when air passenger Hutz Hertzberg, DMin, PhD, suddenly collapsed at Midway Airport in full cardiac arrest.
With each passing minute that his heart was stopped, Dr. Hertzberg's chance of surviving dropped by roughly 10 percent. After five minutes, brain damage was likely. After 10 minutes, he likely would die or suffer severe brain damage.
But fortunately, four medically trained air passengers – two EMTs and two nurses – were in the right place at the right time to save Dr. Hertzberg's life. The four Good Samaritans had come to Midway from Colorado, Texas, Ohio and Kentucky. They worked as a team to administer CPR and shock Dr. Hertzberg's heart back to life with an airport defibrillator.
Dr. Hertzberg was taken to MacNeal Hospital, where he was put on life support, underwent an emergency cooling treatment to prevent brain damage and received two coronary stents.
Remarkably, Dr. Hertzberg left the hospital after just three days and made a full recovery.
I will be forever grateful to God for using four Good Samaritans to save my life and for using the excellent staff at MacNeal Hospital to restore my life."
It's extremely rare to survive an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest and not experience any impairments, said Darius Bartkus, MD, who coordinated Dr. Hertzberg's care. "I've only seen it three times in my career," he said. "When we get a win like this, it makes it all worthwhile."
Dr. Hertzberg recenbtly reunited with the Good Samaritans on the one-year anniversary of the day they saved his life.
Dr. Hertzberg is president of Christian Heritage Academy, a preschool-through-12th grade Christian school in Northfield, Illinois. He also volunteers as the Senior Protestant Chaplain for Chicago's Midway and O'Hare airports.
On June 23, 2018, Dr. Hertzberg was at Midway waiting for a flight to Nashville for a Christian education conference. His wife Lynne and daughter Hiley were joining him for a few days before the conference began.
At 1:35 p.m., as he was leaving the men's room, Dr. Hertzberg collapsed from sudden cardiac arrest. His heart effectively stopped beating, he lost consciousness, stopped breathing and started turning blue.
Good Samaritans Rick Yarbrough, a retired Air Force EMT, and Dan Blasini, RN, an Army-trained nurse, arrived at Dr. Hertzberg's side first. Mr. Yarbrough gently rolled Dr. Hertzberg on to his back and checked for his pulse and breathing – there were none. Mr. Yarbrough secured Dr. Hertzberg's neck while Mr. Blasini began chest compressions and yelled "Get a defibrillator!"
A security guard quickly retrieved an automated external defibrillator (AED). Two other Good Samaritans, EMT Erika Van Hook and her sister-in-law Bridgett Tyler, RN, arrived. Ms. Van Hook helped Mr. Blasini with the chest compressions and they attached the defibrillator pads to Dr. Hertzberg's chest. The AED checked Dr. Hertzberg's heart rhythm and delivered a powerful electric jolt to restart his heart.
Using a mask from the AED, Ms. Van Hook performed mouth-to-mouth breathing, as Ms. Tyler made sure his neck and head were properly positioned.
Dr. Hertzberg's color improved from blue to pale to pinkish, and by the time the paramedics arrived, he had a faint pulse. The four Good Samaritans – from Monument, Colo. (Mr. Yarbrough), San Antonio Tx. (Mr. Blasini), Corbin, Ky. (Ms. Van Hook) and Norwalk, Ohio (Ms. Tyler) – had come together to save his life.
"They worked together so well, you would have thought they had known one another for years," Lynne Hertzberg said.
Paramedics rushed Dr. Hertzberg to MacNeal. His wife and daughter followed in a police SUV, running stop lights with the sirens blaring.
At MacNeal, Dr. Hertzberg was put on advanced life support. He was hooked up to a breathing tube, and IVs delivered essential fluids and medications that aided breathing and circulation.
A major risk of cardiac arrest is brain swelling, caused by the temporary lack of blood circulation. To prevent such swelling, Dr. Hertzberg was wrapped in cooling blankets filled with ice cold water. His body temperature dropped to 93 degrees F. To tolerate the cold, Dr. Hertzberg was put in a medically induced coma.
An angiogram revealed that Dr. Hertzberg had two major blockages in his heart, said MacNeal cardiologist Kishin Ramani, MD. A main artery was 70 to 80 percent blocked and a branch artery was 100 percent blocked. To reopen the vessels, interventional cardiologist George Aziz, MD, performed a balloon angioplasty and stent placement in each artery.
"I was so pleased with the medical care," Mrs. Hertzberg said. "I felt we had the A team."
Mrs. Hertzberg was warned that Dr. Hertzberg could face a long recovery and significant cognitive deficits. But as soon as he woke up and began talking, she could tell he was the same.
Dr. Hertzberg was hospitalized on a Saturday afternoon. He went home the following Tuesday and returned to work a little more than a month later.
Now, every Saturday afternoon, Dr. Hertzberg and his wife and daughter pause at 1:35 p.m. to thank God for the moment when four strangers came together to save his life.
"Every day is a gift from the Lord," he said.