Stan Wisniewski just celebrated 66 years since he survived his sudden cardiac arrest in 1954. Stan interviewed with the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation for the occasion, and his story is nothing short of incredible. He takes us back to the day it happened:
December 17, 1954. It’s Friday, and Stan is working as a radiology technician in Lutheran Deaconess Hospital in Chicago. This was before the days of automatic film processing, so Stan was in the dark room of the Radiology Department with two other techs. They were waiting for their film to process, which took a couple of minutes.
Sitting there in the dark, Wisniewski mentioned feeling warm. The other techs made a joke about the socks he was wearing, and that was that. Two minutes later, when they turned the lights on, they found Wisniewski collapsed on the ground. He hadn’t made a sound. They ran to get the hospital’s radiologist, Dr. Hussey, Sr.
Long before the days of crash carts and “code blues,” Dr. Hussey noticed that Stan didn’t have a pulse or any respiration, so he sent the techs to fetch epinephrine, oxygen, and a priest to read Stan his last rights. Meanwhile, several other doctors came looking for their X-Rays, only to find the commotion with Wisniewski and Dr. Hussey. Dr. Joel Knudson, Dr. George Schroeder, and Dr. C. David Brown were all summoned into the dark room to try and help Wisniewski. At this point, he was all but dead.
Dr. Brown, a former Army surgeon, took his pocket knife and sliced open Stan’s chest, saying they “had nothing to lose.” He broke two of Wisniewski’s ribs to get to his heart, and started performing manual cardiac massage. The two other physicians joined, all three of them with their bare hands inside Wisniewski’s chest cavity. They continued this on their way up to the surgery floor, where they were going to make an all-out attempt to save Stan’s life.
The hospital administrator announced over the PA system that all doctors were to report to the surgery floor. Saving Stan’s life was all-hands-on-deck. For two hours, surgeons tried to get Stan’s heart to hold a regular rhythm. It was twitching, but nothing would last. There was no defibrillator in the building, and one was called in, but it blew a fuse and stopped working as soon as it got there.
Finally, after 135 minutes, Stan’s heartbeat was regular, and the doctors could stop manually massaging his heart. Before they closed his chest, they inserted chest drains for fear of infection (this is before the AIDS epidemic made wearing gloves common practice). The doctors also feared that Stan would suffer brain damage from the loss of oxygen supply.
After surgery, Stan was transferred to a private room with a 24-hour nurse staff, and his upper half was covered by an oxygen tent. ICUs did not yet exist, so this was the best they could do. Stan woke up 36 hours later with absolutely no idea what had happened to him. To check his brain function, the doctors asked him to recite his name, home address, and age. They were shocked to find that he was able to do this with no problems, and had somehow avoided brain damage.
Stan stayed in the hospital for 22 days. He went home in January of 1955, weighing 70 pounds less than he did when he had his SCA. He took a month to recover, then eased his way back into his full-time position as a radiology tech. At the end of that year, he met his current wife Jaci, who worked in the same department. They were married in 1957.
In 1960, Lutheran General Hospital opened, and Stan was promoted to Radiology Department Manager. Only three people held this position in the entire United States at this time. He retired 33 years later.
Stan and Jaci now live in North Carolina, and they just celebrated their 63rd anniversary together. They have two children and two grandchildren. Stan says they have a special place in their lives for all of the doctors who helped save his life, but Dr. Brown remained especially close to the family. He considered himself a grandfather to Stan’s children.
Stan Wisniewski survived against all odds. His story reminds us of how far we’ve come in understanding SCAs (and basic health and safety protocols), and what can be accomplished when we are committed to saving lives.
At AED.US, it is our mission, our passion, and our duty to forge stronger links in the chain of survival.
Written by Blaire Czarniecki
Customer Service Director
Fact checked by Phillip Woods, BA, NREMT-P, FP-C
Blaire attended the University of Tennessee where she graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Human Ecology- Child and Family Studies. She has been in the Automated External Defibrillator (AED) industry for over eight years and is the Director of Customer Service for Coro Medical. Blaire is also an American Red Cross-certified CPR/AED/First Aid Instructor, highly trained by each manufacturer on their specific AEDs, and knowledgeable regarding ALL State AED regulations and legislation.
“I know that every day I come to work, I am playing a part in saving someone’s life. I am passionate about these devices and am always looking for new and innovative ways to spread awareness and knowledge about Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA). I look forward to the day when everywhere I go, I will see an AED—when SCA will no longer take any lives.”