John Clements remembers only snippets of the June 11 game he attended with his family, when the Milwaukee Brewers played Washington at Nationals Park.
He recalls catching a glimpse of Christian Yelich’s leadoff home run before he got to his seat, the recognition Brewers fans gave to the newly purchased “Fear the Beer” T-shirt he was wearing, and the doll his son was swinging on the railing. in front of his ringside seats in section 209. Bobblehead “Unstoppable” Josh Bell gave a nod to the Nationals slugger and Marvel superhero night at the ballpark.
Thanks to a team of real-life superheroes, Clements is still around to talk about it.
The 58-year-old from Onalaska, Wisconsin got the shock of his life when he went into cardiac arrest during the game, prompting two bystanders in the park to rush to his aid and perform CPR.
When he was carried out of the stadium, Clements was already breathing. After a stent was placed in his right coronary artery and he spent three nights in the hospital, he returned to his son’s apartment. Five days after his heart attack, he was on a train home.
“I’m noticeably 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 shocks. I’m getting better day by day though. It’s pain I can take for the rest of my life.”
Presumably, he won’t have to do much, thanks to two strangers who came to his aid. The Washington Post identified them as fire department captain Jamie Jill, 38, and 32-year-old emergency room nurse Lindy Prevatt, who was sitting two sections down when she saw the commotion.
The two didn’t know each other, but Jill told the Post it was like they did: They worked “seamlessly” together to “give this guy the best shot we could.”
He added: “To tell the truth, when I do CPR as a rescuer, often the result is not good.”
It didn’t look good for Clements, either.
John’s wife, Rhonda, said she heard a strange noise coming from John’s throat, something like a growl, and noticed that he was turning blue. She told her children to get help.
“Within a second, a man came, a bystander, asking if she was okay,” Rhonda said. “Within a couple of seconds more, everyone had him on the ground performing CPR, and it happened really 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 amazing how all this is happening right now.'”
Stadium staff cleared two sections of seating to make room. Rhonda and her two sons, JJ, 34, and Nick, 32, were taken to another area while emergency services performed CPR and treated John.
Rhonda said she was relieved but also “pretty surprised” that he was breathing.
“I didn’t have a good feeling about the outcome. Seeing that CPR was done, giving him an electric shock…this is bad. This might not work out,” he said.
“Most of us felt like we weren’t going to talk to him again,” said JJ, who lives in Washington, DC, and invited his family over for the weekend. “We got to George Washington University Hospital, a police officer took us there, and the doctors were very good at explaining everything. We could see him, he was very alive, very alert, he had his own sense of humor. He kept asking over and over, ‘So what happened?'”
The family kept crying, trying to tell John what happened.
His response: “‘Hey. No kidding.'”
JJ finds himself thinking about all the things that could have gone wrong. What if the heart attack had come at another time on the weekend? What if Jill, who had just returned from her honeymoon in Mexico and didn’t even have tickets until later that day, hadn’t been at the game, or what if Prevatt had been sitting in a different part of the stadium, how does she usually do?
“If he had passed out on the way to the game or something, some of the streets are a little quieter, or any other time than at 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, there will be people around to help you.”
JJ wonders if his story could make people aware of the power of CPR training. And then, maybe later, someone else will be able to step in the way that Jill and Prevatt did, and save someone else’s life.
It has provided a new perspective for John and Rhonda, even though John has seen his share of life-saving measures.
The former Army helicopter pilot has flown Emergency Medical Services helicopters for hospitals for the past 14 years.
“I’ve been flying nurses and doctors and I’ve seen them perform heroic acts to save lives,” he said. “I saw this happening every day in a helicopter. The medical team was saving this person’s life and I would go home and think, ‘No big deal, what’s for dinner?’ I knew they saved someone, but it didn’t really check in.
“Now I have in mind that every day these true professionals in the public service field are performing miracles every day and 99.9% of them go unrecognized.”
Rhonda said she finds herself reflecting on what bystanders did after saving her husband.
“What did they do after that? Did they just sit there (and finish the game)?” she pondered. “I can’t imagine just seeing the person (that you saved) get into the ambulance, you did your part and now they’re gone.”
The couple has not had the opportunity to personally thank those who came to their aid. John is determined to change that sometime soon.
“I’m going to do it,” he said. “If I have to fly back, I’ll catch up with them, look them in the eye and say thank you, shake their hand and (try) not to cry.”
Follow JR Radcliffe on Twitter at @JRRadcliffe.