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Wife’s CPR saved husband’s life

911 operator instructed her how to do chest compressions.

Thomas Schinske has no memory of the night his wife saved his life.

Angela Schinske wishes she could erase from her brain the Dec. 30, 2016 image of her lifeless, unconscious husband on their bedroom floor.

“I just know what she’s told me,” says Schinske, 36.

“It was so awful. I really thought I was going to lose him,” says Angela, 35, of the man with whom she’ll be celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary next month.

Statistically speaking, the odds were not in Schinske’s favor.

“The survival rate of someone experiencing an out-of-the-hospital cardiac arrest is approximately 10 percent,” says cardiologist Dr. Robert Cubeddu, of Cleveland Clinic Florida. “However, when CPR is performed immediately, survival rates increase. It’s literally the difference between life and death.”

The cardiac arrest (and survival) was Schinske’s second death-defying, statistically anomalous medical event of that year.

Four months earlier, the Fort Pierce finance professional had become that rarest of 30-somethings: one diagnosed with potentially fatal colorectal cancer. He had surgery in October, followed by biweekly chemotherapy a month later.

As Schinske’s (bad) luck would have it, the chemotherapy actually precipitated the cardiovascular episode in late December.

Doctors would later tell the Schinskes that Thomas suffered an “angiospasm” caused by having a rare reaction to his specific chemotherapy drugs.

“It happens to fewer than 1 percent of the people on that medication,” says Schinske.

Fortunately for them both, Angela stayed calm and did all the right things that fateful evening.

Watching TV together in bed

As they do most nights, the Schinskes were winding down by watching TV in bed and fiddling on their laptops.

Suddenly, Thomas bolted upright, then slowly slumped partially off the bed, face-first.

“He never said a word or made a sound,” says Angela.

She rushed to his side, saw he wasn’t breathing and immediately dialed 911.

“The operator told me I needed to lie him flat on his back and start CPR while we waited for the paramedics.”

Lacking training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation, Angela followed the operator’s instructions: compressions at a rhythm of 100 beats per minute on the upper chest.

Every so often, she says “Thomas would take a huge single gulp of air — like he was coming up from being underwater. I’d get excited for a second — but he wouldn’t keep breathing. So I’d restart the compressions.”

Cubeddu notes that simply performing chest compressions is beneficial because, even if the heart doesn’t restart, circulation is maintained. “That helps limit potential damage to the brain and internal organs.”

Angela recalls becoming even more frightened when “the color in Thomas’s face and lips started to change.”

The four paramedics who arrived within 10 minutes all worked feverishly in the Schinskes’ bedroom to stabilize Thomas.

“I found out afterward that they zapped me at least six times with their defibrillator,” he says.

“It was a long time before they felt he was stable enough to be moved to the ambulance,” she says.

However, they didn’t rush to the hospital, siren blaring, as Angela anticipated they would.

“That was the worst moment because I thought to myself, ‘If they’re not leaving right way, it’s because he’s dead and there’s no rush.’”

A paramedic friend of Angela’s assured her on the phone that “they probably just felt they needed all four to work simultaneously rather than losing one set of hands to driving.”

Sure enough, Schinske was eventually transported to a Fort Pierce hospital.

Though Schinske’s heart began beating on its own, he hadn’t fully regained consciousness. So doctors gradually cooled his internal core temperature in a technique called “therapeutic hypothermia.”

This treatment is often used after cardiac arrest to reduce potential brain damage. The theory is that doing so slows down chemical reactions in the body and may also lessen inflammation in the brain.

Schinske remained in this cooled state for three days before doctors gradually warmed his core temperature back to normal.

“I have no memory of any of this,” he says. “In fact, I don’t remember anything from mid-December 2016 — which is two weeks before the incident — to at least a week into January 2017.”

Schinske spent two weeks in the hospital and another six convalescing at home. He returned to his job in March.

His oncologist decided to halt the preventive chemotherapy and has since deemed him cancer-free.

“I feel like I’m 99 percent recovered,” Schinske said. “My wife and I live an active lifestyle and I’m back doing all the things with her that I could do before the cancer surgery and cardiac arrest.”

Considering Thomas’ condition last year at this time, Valentine’s Day will be extra special for the Schinskes.

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