Jacque's 34-year-old husband, Ed, had a heart attack in front of her fifteen years ago in February. Their first son had been born two months prior, right before Christmas. They were ready for an adventure after negotiating the up-side-down days and nights of new motherhood.
They went to a neighboring trail over Presidents Day weekend so Ed could run and I could push the stroller behind him. They said their goodbyes at the trailhead before disappearing into the winter sunlight.
He returned to them every 10 minutes or so to make ridiculous expressions at the baby before continuing on his way. Ed popped through the trees on one of these loops and came to a stop about 20 feet ahead. He lurched forward a little, covered in sweat and rapidly gasping. "I don't feel good," he murmured, fearfully, and I knew something was wrong.
She parked the stroller in the shade, dashed over to her husband, and helped him to a nearby bench. She contacted 911 over patchy cell service just as Ed's corpse collapsed into the bench. He was breathing heavily and laboriously, and his open eyes were empty and vacant. Jacque kneeled alongside him and cried for help into the trees, hoping that her call would reach a phone tower.
Two spectators approached the bench and lifted Ed's body to the ground, attracting a crowd. They claimed to have medical skills and began checking his pulse. When the 911 operator finally answered, she inquired if Ed was still breathing. He was, but she had never heard anything like it before – deep, rattling inhales every 20 to 30 seconds.
"Should I start CPR?" she inquired of the dispatcher, unsure. She was a CPR-certified teacher who was also a worried wife and new mother.
Without a face shield, no one was willing to help, so it was down to Jacque. A man approached her just as the 911 dispatcher instructed her to begin CPR.
"Has anyone called 911? How long has he been down? Does he have a pulse?"
He exuded authority, and she trusted that he knew what he was doing. While he administered compressions, the man instructed me to kneel next to Ed and administer breaths. A woman in the crowd held my baby as gravel dug into her knees, and a stranger's hands helped Ed's heart beat inside his comatose body.
Ed was still alive but barely when the ambulance came 20 minutes later. He was defibrillated and placed on a trolley by medics. It looked as though she was watching everything unfold from afar as first responders worked on him. Nothing felt genuine.
She discovered that Ed was comatose and had suffered a serious interruption in his heart's rhythm, which resulted in cardiac arrest, she discovered in the emergency room. Jacque couldn't bear being alone in their home, so she spent ten days in the ICU waiting room with her new baby, waiting to know if her husband would live.
Ed was put through a battery of examinations. Doctors were taken aback when they discovered no damage to his heart or brain. He suffered from short-term memory loss and had no recollection of the day he passed out, but he was expected to recover fully. They'd return home as a three-person household.
Steve was a part-time fireman and a paramedic. The day Ed collapsed, he was out walking with pals. Steve collaborated with the American Heart Association to provide CPR classes in the community and at local high schools. He oozed confidence on the path for a reason: he'd dedicated his career to saving lives.
Ed met Steve after the hospital and had the opportunity to thank him, though no words seemed enough. They maintained contact over the years. He's seen their family grow by another son at birthday parties, Christmas gatherings, and trips to the firehouse, and he's seen their oldest develop from a baby in a stroller to an independent teenager.
The Gorelicks don't linger on the events of 15 years ago, but they are reminded of ordinary heroes every February. Because he learned CPR, a stranger saved my Ed's life, gave their boys their father, and gave them a second opportunity at family.