You Only Live Twice

On a cold Minnesota morning, Howard Snitzer collapsed on a sidewalk. Ninety-six minutes later, he still didn't have a heartbeat. Here's how he survived.

By Gary Sledge from Reader's Digest | November 2011

“So often we do CPR for the benefit of the family who are surrounding the victim because we know the chances are slim that he or she will survive,” says Sonia Stehr, a Zumbrota EMT who works for IBM. “But this man had no one there, and no one knew who he was. We were it, and though we were pessimistic about his chances, no one wanted to give up as long as he showed some signs of responding.”

6:27 — 45 minutes over: Goodman calls White for the fourth time: “He’s still in V-fib. We can’t stop it.”

“Then give him a double dose of amiodarone,” White says. “Continue CPR, and give him one more shock.”

6:31 — 49 minutes over: Svoboda gives the injection. Hands cease the relentless rhythm of chest compression. Then the team from Mayo shock Snitzer for the 12th and final time.

Nothing. Resigned to the inevitable, Goodman asks the assembled EMTs and paramedics, “Is there anything more we can do for this guy?” The question is standard medical protocol, a step on the way to stopping treatment and pronouncing the patient dead. The firehouse is silent.

6:32 — 50 minutes over: Men and women pack up equipment. Snitzer lies on the backboard, as lifeless as when they had begun their labors. His body is surrounded by spent IV tubes, packaging, and needles. Blood from his IVs has pooled on the floor. Seconds tick by in silence.

6:33 — 51 minutes over: The heart monitor beeps. It beeps again, then keeps on beeping. Snitzer’s heart has surged to life, beating on its own.

“Let’s fly, let’s go!” shouts Goodman. Snitzer is quickly wheeled onto Mayo One. As the helicopter lifts off amid muted sighs of relief, one volunteer shakes his head: “My God, I don’t believe he’s still hanging in there.”

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