Man Died for 15 Minutes at Pub, Lucked Out With EMT Bystanders

But Don Roese, 83, had the good fortune to be near a paramedic and ER nurse.

March 20, 2014, 11:14 AM

March 20, 2014— -- Don Roese collapsed on the dance floor of an Iowa pub just a few bars into the band's rendition of his song request: Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline."

A massive heart attack left the 83-year-old with no pulse, and he wasn’t breathing.

He didn't look so good, so good, so good.

“He just dropped like a brick,” said Clive Fire Department Assistant Chief Tony Collins, who happened to be celebrating his 53rd birthday at the pub on Friday night and rushed forward to start CPR. “He couldn’t have dropped at a better time considering the company he was in.”

Collins, who has 35 years of experience as a paramedic, said his party included an emergency room nurse and an EMT. They rotated in and out, doing chest compressions and giving Roese mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Onlookers sniffled as they watched, Collins said. The band stopped playing. The lights came up.

Roese’s son stayed near his father’s head, and said, “Come on, Dad,” and “Dad, keep fighting,” while Collins worked, Collins told

About 15 minutes after they started CPR, Roese tried to take a breath on his own, and Collins felt for a pulse. He found it.

“His arms came up, and he was reaching blindly toward his face,” Collins said.

Soon, they were helping Roese onto a stretcher and heading out to an ambulance.

“The bar erupted in applause,” Collins said. “It was pretty powerful. That just doesn’t happen very often when you drop of a heart attack. He shouldn’t even be here today.”

Of the estimated 720,000 people who have heart attacks in the United States every year, about 122,000 die, according to the American Heart Association. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it is important to seek treatment immediately because “Unless treated, a person whose heart has stopped can die within minutes.”

Roese survived the night and was transferred to another hospital a few days later via ambulance. The ambulance driver happened to know Collins, so Roese and the driver gave him a call.

“I couldn’t believe I was talking to him on the telephone,” Collins said. “That phone call made my day.”

Collins stopped by the hospital to visit a few days later, and Roese knew who he was immediately.

“He goes, ‘You gave up your birthday celebration to save my life,’” Collins said. “His eyes got big and he goes, ‘Are you Tony?’ I said, ‘Yes, I am, Don. Last time I saw you, you didn’t look so good.’”

Roese was scheduled to undergo triple bypass surgery on Wednesday, Collins said. Roese had two arteries that were completely blocked and a third that was 50 percent blocked, resulting in a heart attack that is only survivable about 1 percent of the time, Collins said.

“This guy said he’s gonna buy me a beer when he gets out of the hospital,” Collins said. “I said you need to go buy a lottery ticket because you are one lucky man.”

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