Photo by Dermot Connolly
As Pam and Henry “Hank” Gniadek watch, cardiology nurse Krista Ryan opens the bouquet of flowers they presented her last Thursday at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, in thanks for saving Hank’s life.
Chicago Ridge resident Henry “Hank” Gniadek calls cardiology nurse Krista Ryan, RN, his “guardian angel” for saving his life when he collapsed while exercising at a gym.
“I keep looking behind her to see where her wings are,” joked Gniadek, who was sitting beside Ryan as they recounted the June 14 incident at a press conference last Thursday at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, where Ryan works.
“I usually don’t get emotional but there were definitely tears in my eyes,” he added, when asked to describe their first meeting when Ryan stopped in to see him when he was recovering in the hospital.
They were joined at the press conference by Gniadek’s wife, Pam, and interventionist cardiologist Vinay Arora, MD, who inserted a stent to clear two blockages found in one of his coronary arteries following the incident.
Arora explained that Gniadek underwent bypass surgery last year (at Palos Hospital) after being diagnosed with coronary artery disease, but it is not unusual to find subsequent blockages. “Unfortunately, it is just the nature of the disease.”.
Gniadek, 66, a retired football coach at Our Lady of the Ridge School, said he was nearly finished with his regular 6 a.m. routine on a treadmill at the LA Fitness gym in Alsip when he collapsed without warning.
Ryan, who lives in Oak Lawn, just happened to be on a nearby treadmill when he dropped to the ground.
“I thought he had tripped and went over to see if he was OK. I checked for his pulse and didn’t find any. Someone had already yelled to call 911, so I called for the AED. I had just noted where it was the previous week. But it was downstairs and we were upstairs,” said Ryan, referring to the portable automated external defibrillator.
Ryan said that as she began doing CPR, “two gentlemen appeared in front of me, a retired fireman and a student paramedic. We alternated giving chest compressions.”
“When we got the AED, we gave two shocks and got his pulse back just as the paramedics arrived,” she said.
“I haven’t performed CPR in my job for the past five years. But I think it was muscle memory or a higher power that brought it all back to me,” Ryan said.
“I didn’t realize what was happening until I was in the ambulance. I knew I was in deep trouble when I heard the paramedics saying they had called my wife and she would meet us at the hospital.”.
“But with the help of Krista and Dr. Arora, I am here happily talking to you. It is better than the alternative, I would imagine,” said Gniadek.
“The paramedics in Alsip were great, too. They stopped me from driving home,” he added. “I don’t remember it, but they said when I woke up, I told them several times I felt good enough to drive.”
“This case really exemplifies the importance of knowing CPR and knowing where the AEDs are in any place you frequent often,” said Arora.
Coincidentally, Gniadek said, as a youth football coach, he had been trained in CPR and the use of AEDs.
Arora noted that the portable AEDs include simple instructions, which make it possible for people who are untrained to use them in an emergency.
“Krista did a really amazing thing doing CPR right away, I do think that saved his life,” said the doctor.
“It happened at a good place. Because I don’t know CPR — although I am going to learn now. What really resonates with me is that Krista would not ordinarily have been there at that time. She was there for a reason and I am grateful,” said Pam Gniadek, before presenting Ryan with an enormous bouquet of flowers.
“I try to get there at 5. But my 2-year-old son woke up as I was trying to sneak out so I got there late,” explained the nurse.
“I hope I haven’t changed too much since it happened — except to be more appreciative of every day I am walking,” said Gniadek.
He and his wife have a son and daughter, and two grandchildren.
His wife pointed out that he is already back walking three miles a day with her, a routine they began after he was first diagnosed last year.
“We just got back doing that on Monday (June 25). Since being diagnosed last year, Hank really started watching his health, and lost more than 80 pounds. He knows that most people don’t get a second chance at life, and this is his third. I have had enough excitement,” she said with a laugh.
“I’m usually not that exciting,” he deadpanned.