Malinowski and friend Kayla Stonehouse had come back from a water break during a kick boxing class about 9:20 p.m. Wednesday at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse’s Recreational Eagle Center to find abdominal exercises already had begun on the mat.
“Good thing we came back late,” Malinowski whispered jokingly to Stonehouse.
When the next exercise began, everyone flipped on their backs – except Malinowski.
Stonehouse again thought she was joking.
Then she noticed Malinowski’s face, eyes rolled back. She began to wheeze and gasp.
Stonehouse jumped up, yelling for help.
Sophomore Christiane Berdan was certified in CPR from her lifeguard days and as a UW-L athletic training student. She thought at first Malinowski had fainted but when she got closer realized it was much worse. The 20-year-old had no pulse and wasn’t breathing.
“You kick into autopilot and do what needs to be done at the moment and don’t think about it,” said Berdan.
Berdan started chest compressions, and Stonehouse began breathing for her friend.
Andrea Harrill, UW-L student and building manager at the center, was sitting at the back counter when a frantic person came from the fitness room. Harrill directed students and fellow staff to grab an on-site defibrillator and call 911.
Harrill administered shocks to Malinowski with the defibrillator until the La Crosse Fire Department and Tri-State Ambulance arrived.
Firefighter EMTs got Malinowski breathing on her own again, her father Mark Malinowski said.
His daughter is recovering at Franciscan Skemp Medical Center. Walking outside the hospital room, Mark Malinowski’s eyes teared up when he spoke of the many people who came through for his family and daughter – from UW-L staff to firefighters, first responders and hospital workers.
But she wouldn’t be alive had the students not known what to do, he said.
“They reacted. They weren’t afraid to do something,” he said. “These people are heroes in my book.”
“Talking to people and realizing more and more how bad it was when I was going to the hospital, realizing it really is a second chance at life,” Clare said.