March 3, 2011— -- It's not very often Dr. Roger White uses the word "amazing." But when more than 20 first responders tirelessly performed CPR on a dying man for more than an hour and a half -- and saved his life -- the co-director of the Mayo Clinic's emergency transport team said it was nothing less than remarkable.
"If he had not had CPR, and good CPR, he would not have survived," White said. "CPR made all the difference."
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It was just another cold winter's evening in tiny, remote Goodhue, Minn., where the population is less than 1,000, and they don't even have a traffic light.
Howard Snitzer, 54, was heading to buy groceries at Don's Foods, when he crumpled to the sidewalk, suffering a massive heart attack.
While the grocery clerk called 911, the only customer in the store, an off-duty corrections officer, rushed to Snitzer's side and began what could be the longest, successful out-of-hospital resuscitation ever.
Across the street, Roy and Al Lodermeier, of Roy and Al's Auto Service, heard the commotion and hurried over.
"He wasn't breathing," Al Lodermeier said. "He was in trouble and that's when we started doing CPR."
As news spread, the numbers grew. The team of first responders in Goodhue is made up entirely of volunteers. In total, about two dozen pairs of hands worked to the point of exhaustion to save Snitzer's life in a CPR marathon.
"We just lined up and when one guy had enough, the next guy jumped in," Roy Lodermeier said. "That's how it went."
Candace Koehn, the off-duty corrections officer who was first on the scene, said the group worked as a team.
"Usually," Koehn said, "there was someone on the sidelines saying, 'Hey, you want me to take over? You need a break?'"
When the paramedics arrived via helicopter, they witnessed an astonishing scene. Mary Svoboda, a Mayo Clinic flight nurse who flew in on the emergency helicopter, said "it was unbelievable. There were probably 20 in line, waiting their turn to do CPR. They just kept cycling through."
More Than Two Dozen First Responders Save Man in Marathon CPR Session
The marathon CPR went on for 96 minutes. First responders shocked Snitzer's heart 12 times, and they administered intravenous drugs. When they finally had a pulse and a regular heart beat a, Snitzer was airlifted to the Mayo Clinic.
After 10 days, he was released from the hospital -- miraculously healthy, and incredibly grateful.
"My heart wasn't pumping anything, so the only thing that was pumping my blood was those guys doing CPR," he said.
Snitzer, a relatively new addition to Goodhue, reunited with those who worked to save his life on Tuesday at the town's fire station.
"I think it's the quality of the person," he said. "We're in small-town America, hard-working people. I happened to have a king-size heart attack in the right place and the right time, and these guys would not give up."
He came to thank his neighbors -- no longer strangers. People who simply would not quit when he needed them most.
"I feel like I have a responsibility to them to live the best life possible and honor the effort they made," Snitzer said.