Life Saver

By Lloyd Graff

On Monday, August 14, my wife, Risa, received a Facebook message from a woman named Diana. In 1995 they were both on a commuter train to downtown Chicago when Diana’s 3-week-old daughter Keisha stopped breathing. Even worse, blood was coming out of the baby’s mouth. Risa had recently taken a CPR class at her Tae-Kwan-Doe school. Everybody else on the train seemed paralyzed, but Risa raced to the baby and administered mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. There was no time to think. She had the courage and the knowledge to step up. The train ultimately stopped and the mother and child were helicoptered to Children’s hospital. The baby survived and thrived.

In Diana’s note she thanked Risa and sent a photo of 22-year-old Keisha with with her own 2-year-old son. Risa had only heard from Diana one other time since the incident, when Keisha was still a baby. It was a very sweet August anniversary for all three.

I am also celebrating the gift of life in August. August 29, 2008, was the day my life almost ended with a catastrophic heart event. After a terrible summer vacation in New Buffalo, Michigan, where I probably almost died climbing up a sand dune, I began to push my denial aside enough to think I was quite sick, though probably with pre-pneumonia, rather than severe angina.

Metra Commuter Train in Chicago

After getting back to Chicago I finally decided I’d better see a doctor friend of mine, Chris Costas. Chris put a stethoscope on me, looked at my face and then told me he was wheeling me himself to the ER of St. Francis hospital in Evanston, Illinois. The last thing I remember of that day was the nurse asking me if I cared if they cut my underwear off.

My wife, Risa, tells me that by the grace of God there was a cardiac interventionist available to attempt to insert a stent in my blocked left anterior descending artery (the “Widow Maker”). The procedure was an extremely difficult one because of the 100% blockage, but if the cardiologist could not pull it off my odds of living were awful. I had to get stronger to be able to have the quadruple bypass I needed, and that could only happen if he could somehow get the stent in.

Dr. Muhammad Akbar, the cardiologist, somehow inserted the stent. When asked how he did it he silently pointed skyward. I was on a ventilator for 13 days after that. The bypass surgery was successful, and I feel truly blessed as I celebrate the beauty of living every day.

August also makes me think of my Mom, Thais Kassel, who was born August 15, 1923. She was a loving and kind woman. Great Cubs fan, too.

August is such a beautiful month.

Question: Have you ever saved a life or had your life saved?

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10 thoughts on “Life Saver

  1. Joe

    In 1988 my then girlfriend had her father take me to my first AA meeting. Maybe this sounds overly dramatic but I truly believe that saved my life.

  2. Carol

    Thanks for sharing your stories. You have a gift with words and these are important things to remind us of what really matters. You are truly blessed. Jesus saved me from my self centeredness which saved my life. I am truly blessed too.

  3. Klaus

    Literally dropped dead on the court after playing basketball Sept 24, 2010. Luckily two of my teammates knew CPR and the facility had an AED because the owner’s father had died several years earlier in a similar manner. Needless to say I was resuscitated and became one of the very, very few who come all the way back from such an event. Now every day is a bonus.

  4. Lloyd Graff

    I wrote Dr. Akbar, the cardiac interventionist, yesterday to thank him and let him know I was thinking of him nine tyears after. I received a beautiful note from him two hours later thanking me for the heads up. I called Dr Costas also.
    We should let people know when they make a difference in our lives. I don’t do it often enough.

  5. John Martin

    Both, In the mid seventies I was involved in a serous car accident. I do recall the long white hallway with the white doors at the end that many have spoke about in near death experiences. The first responders were able to revive me while still in the car, extract me and get to the hospital (I still have a giant scar on my tongue where I bit it through, that was the least of my injuries and wasn’t discovered until three days after the event.

    I saved a like several years ago, on a quiet Sunday morning my wife came running in the house screaming that my neighbor had cut himself and to come quickly. I dropped what I was doing and ran outside. Across the street, a neighbor was staggering down a driveway holding his upper left arm with blood literally “gushing” out. I ran to him and insisted that he lay down on the ground immediately (he though that he had to walk to the street so the paramedics could find him). I applied direct pressure to the wound, made sure another neighbor had called 911 (they hadn’t) and kept the pressure on the arm. while this was going on my middle son had just returned from a Saturday night out with friends and a EMT student. He came by and commented that he wouldn’t be doing anything different and went home and to sleep (he is now a Lieutenant on a suburban fire department). the paramedics arrived about 5 minutes the start of the incident, reviewed what was happening and prepared to transport the gentleman. all the while I was asking for someone to relieve me as my arms were fatiguing from squeezing the arm. The paramedics transported the young man. and I went home to change out of my blood soaked shirt & pants and take a shower. (during this incident I had asked if the injured person had any blood borne diseases, he thought no. I had asks the para’s to check on that and let me know, he didn’t. later that day, there was a knock at my front door. It turns out to be the neighbor f]that cut himself. Turns out he only needed to be stitched up, he was using a chain saw clearing some storm downed limbs and slipped on a log and suffered the chain saw cut down to the bone, only cutting a vein (a pretty large one by the amount of blood). He came to thank me and ask how I new what to do. That was the easy part. I was at the time a Boy Scoutmaster and had taught years worth of Scout Emergency Preparedness and First Aid merit badges. If your going to have an emergency, hope that a Boy Scout is around.

  6. Marc Klecka

    In July ’08, while climbing Mt. Rainier, a bit north of 12,300 feet and on Disappointment Cleaver, I fell. Keeping it short, I had disengaged from my rope line, and left my ice axe to hold my pack to the slope. My safety harness became tangled, and as I bent down (one of many stupid things), the inertia took me head over heals over a ridge and down the mountain. Depending on how you look at it, either God, or Tyler Jones, a Rainier Mountaineering Guide, who just happened to be at a particular place for no necessary reason, dove and grabbed me, taking both of us further down the mountain. He had the strength and sense to turn us both around and cling to the mountain. Otherwise, they would have found me a few thousand feet down in some crevasse (if at all). I am thankful every day.

  7. Keith

    I guess I will share a little miracle story as well. This February I was stopped at the end of a freeway waiting for a light to change when a car came along behind me a hit me at about 50 mph. The car was totalled but I appeared to be little hurt. As a precaution I was urged by my wife to get checked out. I first went to my Chiropractor, and then to my MD, Dr LLorente. She took my blood pressure which was extremely high so she then took an EKG which indicated I had Atrial Fibrillation. This led to many cardiologist visits and echo-cardiograms. It was discovered I had aortic stenosis ( a valve with 80%reduced capacity). After a few consults it was decided I would have open heart surgery to replace the valve and a couple other procedures. It is now 5 weeks later and I am recovering nicely. I will be 76 next week and I had no symptoms that would have led me to believe I had a heart disease. The accident was certainly a blessing. Everyone please ask to have your heart checked at your next physical. A little long winded as I only talked about me, but I need to say that Hoag Hospital, my Cardiologist Dr. Neala Hunter and the head of the surgical team Dr. Anthony Cafferelli were magnificent. Heart disease is a silent killer!

  8. Emily Halgrimson Post author

    At age 21 I was wading thigh deep in the ocean off the coast of Sri Lanka when before I even realized what was happening, I was floating unable to stand up. A minute later I was struggling as the waves crashed over me. I remember very clearly thinking, “if one more waves breaks on me I’m not going to be able to stay up.” At that moment a surfer called over and asked if I needed help. I said yes and he paddled over and gave me his board. He brought me to shore and after a moment or two I looked over to thank him and he was gone. He saved my life that day, I’m sure of it.


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