Location of Event – Marathon in Memphis, TN
On Saturday, December 3, 2016, I was in Memphis, TN, to run my third consecutive (and fourth overall) marathon at the St. Jude Memphis Marathon. Every year since 2007, when my four-year-old niece, Sophie Quayle, passed away from a Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, my sister has organized a team of fundraisers who join forces to raise awareness of pediatric cancer, and more importantly, raise money for St. Jude at the annual marathon weekend in Memphis.
2016 saw a total of 24 team members descend on Memphis as part of the Smiles for Sophie Forever team. The team consisted of runners with various abilities and backgrounds – each running one of the events – full marathon, half marathon, 10K, or the 5K. At the St. Jude Pasta Party the night before the race, the team gathered for dinner and for a chance to visit with returning team members, as well as meet new team members. One of those new team members, Sharon Lopata, my sister’s friend from her gym in Avon Lake, OH, decided (quite literally) at the last minute to join the team, come to Memphis, and run the 5K. Little did I know that in less than 24 hours, the stranger who I had just met would play a crucial role in saving my life.
Race day morning was just like the previous two years: up early and off to the heroes lounge to meet with the team for last minute preparations and to offer each other words of encouragement before heading off the to the starting line. The marathon itself went as planned (well, up until the very end). I was familiar with the course as I had run it the two previous years. I had trained well and maintained by desired pace and was feeling good throughout the first 20+ miles.
The St. Jude Marathon course is set up such that at the ~23 mile mark, the route passes very near the finish line. Being the supportive teammates that they were, Sharon, my sister, and another friend of theirs decided to come out and meet me at that point to run the last three miles with me to provide psychological support and motivation during those grueling last few miles – even though they each had just completed the 5K. It sure was nice to see familiar faces and it provided me the motivation to power through those last couple of miles.
The finish line of the St. Jude Marathon is in the outfield of Auto Zone Park – the baseball stadium of the St. Louis Cardinals AAA affiliate Memphis Redbirds. We rounded the final corner and approached the outfield gate. I woke up 2.5 days later in Memphis Methodist Hospital.
The story I’m told is that about 30 yards from the finish line, I stopped running and had a dazed look in my eyes before losing consciousness and falling to the ground. Sharon, my sister, and their friend, caught me, preventing a hard fall to the ground. Sharon, through her training and experience immediately took control of the situation. She checked for a pulse and finding none, immediately began CPR, while the others called for help. Being so close to the finish line, there were EMTs within ~100 yards who quickly arrived. They got me on a stretcher and transported me to an ambulance, while Sharon continued CPR the whole time.
Once I was in the ambulance and the leads were in place, the monitor showed pulseless ventricular tachycardia. As EMS personnel were charging the machine in preparation for a shock, my heart restored a normal sinus rhythm. It is estimated that I was pulseless for one to three minutes. Due to posturing reflexes, I was sedated and rushed to the hospital where I underwent a 24-hour therapeutic hypothermia protocol. After about seven days in the hospital undergoing a battery of cardiac tests and ICD implantation, I was released with full cognitive abilities and no lingering effects. Needless to say, the very first stop I made upon release from the hospital was Sharon’s house to thank her for her quick actions that undoubtedly played a major role in my survival of sudden cardiac arrest.
Because of her CPR training, confidence to take control of the situation, and quick action, Sharon Lopata became a People Saving People that day and I am living proof. Therefore, with pride, I enthusiastically and wholeheartedly nominate Sharon Lopata for the People Saving People Award.
Nominated by Charly Miklaski