When Howard Snitzer clutched his chest and crumpled on a freezing sidewalk outside Don’s Foods in Goodhue, MN, (located in rural Goodhue, pop. about 900 and a town without a traffic light) he was wearing gym shorts, fresh from his daily workout. Across the street, at Roy and Al’s Auto Service, the Lodermeier brothers were getting ready to close. Then, a local high school teacher ran up. “He said a guy had fallen on the sidewalk,” Al Lodermeier says. At that moment, Don Shulte, owner of the grocery store, walked in. The three ran back to where Snitzer lay on the sidewalk. He wasn’t breathing. He had no pulse. If he didn’t get help soon, he would die.
For the next 96 minutes, more than an hour and a half, Al, his brother Roy, bystander Candace Koehn, who saw Snitzer fall, and more than two dozen other first responders took turns performing CPR on the fallen man. Their teamwork saved Snitzer’s life, in what may be one of the longest, successful out-of-hospital resuscitations ever. “It’s remarkable,” says Bruce Wilkoff, a Clevland Clinic heart rhythm specialist. “It’s a great example of people doing the right thing and having it work out.”
Along with the Lodermeier brothers, both veteran first responders with more than three decades of experience on the volunteer Goodhue Fire Department, Snitzer’s rescuers included police, volunteer fire fighters and rescue squads from the neighboring towns of Zumbrota and Red Wing. The Mayo Clinic’s emergency helicopter, Mayo One, flew in from Rochester, MN, almost 35 miles away. Their teamwork kept blood flowing to Snitzer’s brain, making each rescuer a surrogate for his failing heart.
Nationwide, only about 5% of people who suffer cardiac arrest on the street are resuscitated and leave the hospital. “…I don’t think the story’s about me,” says Snitzer, 54, who suffered his cardiac arrest on Jan. 5 and spent 10 days in the hospital. “It’s about the guys in Goodhue and Mayo One… My end of this bargain is to honor the guys who did this for me.”
“The number one thing in this case was that someone recognized very quickly that (Snitzer) had arrested and began good, hard, fast CPR,” says Mayo One paramedic Bruce Goodman. When they met in his hospital room, Goodman says, he was stunned to see a man he didn’t think would survive sitting up and talking with his brother. Snitzer asked Gooman, “Why didn’t you stop?” It’s a question, Goodman says, that he still doesn’t have a good answer for. His survival reflects a triumph over doubt as much as perseverance. The first responders who raced to Snitzer’s assistance knew when they arrived that the odds were stacked against them. “This is the first case I know of, of someone who walks and talks and is getting around like (Snitzer) is,” says Roy Lodermeier. Survivors sometimes suffer brain damage, White says, “a very compelling concern” in Snitzer’s case. “If you’d told me that night that this guy was going to get up and walk out of the hospital,” says Mayo One’s Goodman, “I would probably have said, ‘I’ll bet my house against yours he won’t.’ ”
“When I came to work five or six days later, I looked him up to see when he had died. I found out he had a room number,” Goodman said. Goodman and Svoboda went down to see him and told him for the first time what occurred. Snitzer says he’s still sore from the CPR and weak from the heart attack. But he’s extremely grateful to all the people who saved his life. “I’m a chef. I told them I’d be fattening them up every chance I get.”
On Tuesday, White flew to Goodhue to attend the monthly meeting of the Goodhue Fire Department and offer a seminar on the case. Snitzer and Ryan went too and Snitzer met White for the first time. “I was floored,” Snitzer says. “He hugged me for a long time. He wouldn’t let go.”