All Steve Holland, 68, of Long Grove, remembers about Nov. 1 is that he stepped onto a treadmill at Midtown Athletic Club in Palatine, plugged in his head phones … and woke up at the hospital.
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To fill in the hours-long gap, he suffered a cardiac arrest, stopped breathing after he was collapsed while exercising, and was brought back to life by one friend and two strangers, who now are being honored for their quick thinking.
“I’m very thankful to be alive, but that’s about it …,” said Holland, not one for the limelight.
His friend, Linda Kleiss, a nurse practitioner, was working out nearby and saw him fall.
“It’s just one of those stories that we all can learn from,” Kleiss said. And they have — several witnesses have since become CPR-certified and learned how to use a defibrillator, she said.
“I was honored to be able to help out and it was a fantastic outcome and that’s rare,” she said. “No, hero. I had lots of help. It was a team effort.”
Holland ran a mile on the track that Monday morning before getting on the treadmill at about 6 a.m.
“I remember that morning perfectly well up until the incident,” he said. “I was perfectly fine and I was just getting on the treadmill to watch TV for a while.”
Tim Kirby, of Long Grove, a regular at the club, was on a nearby machine watching ESPN when out of the corner of his eye he saw Holland, a stranger to him, “fling off a treadmill.” He yelled out “does anyone know CPR” and “call 911” and ran over to Holland. He breathed into his mouth while Kleiss did chest compressions.
“His eyes were fixed and dilated,” Kirby said. “I have never seen anything like it before in my life. He had no pulse and no heart rate.”
Within moments, fitness director Neil Wywialowski, who was teaching a kinesis class when he heard his name being called out, ran over with an Automated External Defibrillator. He attached the paddle-like censors to Holland’s chest, which instantly registered that he needed “immediate shock now.”
Wywialowski triggered the charges and after what seemed like forever to those around Holland, he began breathing.
“Neil showed up and pushed the button to administer the shock,” Kirby said. “It was like his body was reviving. We saw on the defibrillator he had a heart rate. That was very, very exciting to us.”
Kirby, a vice president of a software company and father of five, said he had trained in CPR while a youth basketball coach, but had never had to use it.
“You never want to see that happen,” Kirby said. “It is a miracle he came back to life.”
The Palatine Fire Department acknowledges the trio’s actions as exactly what is taught by the American Heart Association and is why Holland is still alive, said Paul Wallace, division chief.
“Good quality CPR and early defibrillation is the one proven treatment for cardiac arrest,” said Wallace.
Wywialowski, who has worked at the club for 17 years and said the defibrillator has saved eight lives in that time, said the accolade is “really unnecessary” and that “we are fortunate it was a positive outcome.”
“I don’t feel that I was hero. It is something that anybody else would have done in my situation,” he said. “There were a lot of things that went right here.”
About two weeks later, Holland had a heart valve replacement and bypass surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. He’s now back at the health club. While he shuns the attention, he said he hopes what happened leads to more awareness of the need for people to learn CPR and for more businesses to own and train employees in using defibrillators.
“If some good could come of this … it’s just an issue there where people were prepared and the club was prepared and things turned out well,” he said. “If they hadn’t been trained and prepared, things may have turned out very differently.”