Wisconsin man had heart attack at recent Brewers-Nationals game. Two fans performed CPR to save his life.
John Clements remembers only fragments from the June 11 game he attended with his family, when the Milwaukee Brewers played Washington at Nationals Park.
He remembers catching a glimpse of Christian Yelich's leadoff home run before getting to his seat, the acknowledgment fellow Brewers fans gave to the newly purchased "Fear the Beer" T-shirt that he wore, and the bobblehead that his son balanced on the railing in front of their first-row seats in section 209. The "Unstoppable" Josh Bell bobblehead marked a nod to the Nationals slugger and to Marvel superhero night at the ballpark.
Thanks to a crew of real-life superheroes, Clements is still around to talk about it.
The 58-year-old from Onalaska, Wisconsin, got the scare of a lifetime when he went into cardiac arrest during the game, prompting two bystanders at the park to rush to his aid and perform CPR.
By the time he was carted out of the stadium, Clements was breathing. After a stent was placed in his right coronary artery and he spent three nights in the hospital, he was back in his son's apartment. Five days after his heart attack, he was on a train back home.
"I'm remarkably better," Clements said Tuesday. "The only pain I have is the pain that saved me. I can feel it in my chest plate from the CPR and the shocks. I'm better day by day, though. It's pain that I can put up with for the rest of my life."
Presumably he won't have to even do that much, thanks to two strangers who came to his aid. The Washington Post identified them as 38-year-old fire department captain Jamie Jill and 32-year-old emergency room nurse Lindy Prevatt, who was seated two sections over when she saw the commotion.
The two didn't know each other, but Jill told the Post it was as though they did – they worked "seamlessly" together to "give this guy the best shot we could."
He added: "Truthfully, when I do CPR as a first responder, oftentimes the outcome is not good."
It hadn't looked good for Clements, either.
John's wife, Rhonda, said she'd heard a strange noise coming from John's throat, something like a grunt, and noticed he was turning blue. She told her sons to get help.
"Within a second, a man came, a spectator, asking if he was OK," Rhonda said. "Within a couple seconds more, they all had him down on the ground performing CPR, and it just happened so fast. I felt like I was watching an episode of 'ER' or something. In the background, I could see the game going on. 'This is unbelievable how this all happening right now.' "
Stadium personnel cleared two sections of seating to allow for space. Rhonda and their two sons — JJ, 34, and Nick, 32 — were led to another area while emergency responders performed CPR and tended to John.
Rhonda said she was relieved but also "quite shocked" that he was breathing.
"I did not have a good feeling for the outcome. Seeing that CPR being done, shocking him ... this is bad. This might not turn out," she said.
"Most of us kind of felt like we weren't going to talk to him again," said JJ, who lives in Washington, D.C., and invited his family for the weekend. "We got to George Washington University Hospital — a police officer drove us there — and the doctors were very good at explaining everything. We were able to see him, and he was very much alive, very alert, had his same sense of humor. He kept asking again and again, 'So what happened?'"
The family was still crying, trying to tell John what happened.
His response: " 'Huh. No kidding.'"
JJ finds himself thinking about all the things that could have gone wrong. What if the heart attack had come at a different point in the weekend? What if Jill, who had just gotten back from his honeymoon in Mexico and didn't even have tickets until earlier that day, hadn't been at the game, or what if Prevatt had been sitting in a different part of the stadium, as she usually does?
"Had he passed out on the walk there to the game or something — some of the streets are a little more quiet — or any other time than in the stadium, we would have a very different Father's Day," he said. "You don't want to have a heart attack in a public place, but if you do, people are going to be around to help."
JJ wonders if their story could make people aware of the power of CPR training. And then maybe down the line, someone else will be able to jump in the way Jill and Prevatt did, and save another person's life.
It's provided a new perspective for John and Rhonda, even though John has seen his share of lifesaving measures.
The former helicopter pilot in the Army has flown Emergency Medical Services helicopters for hospitals over the past 14 years.
"I've been flying nurses and medics and watching them perform hero lifesaving acts," he said. "I would see this happening on a day-to-day basis in a helicopter. The medical crew would save this person's life, and I'd go home and think, 'No big deal, what's for supper?' I knew they saved somebody but it didn't really register.
"Now it's in my mind, every day these true professionals in the public-service field are performing miracles every day and 99.9% of them don't get recognized."
Rhonda said she finds herself pondering what the bystanders did next after saving her husband.
"What did they do after that? Did they just sit there (and finish the game)?" she mused. "I can't imagine just seeing the person (that you saved) go into the ambulance, you did your part and now they're gone."
The couple hasn't had a chance to personally thank those who came to their aid. John is determined to change that at some point soon.
"I'm going to," he said. "If I have to fly back out there, I am going to get to them, look them in the eye and say thank you, shake their hands and (try) not to cry."
Follow JR Radcliffe on Twitter at @JRRadcliffe.