By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS
Stephen Sroka, Ph.D., was addressing public school staffers about the growing heroin addiction problem in Ohio when he remarked, “I feel tired.”
A well-known motivational speaker, Sroka had been talking about difficulties in his own life growing up in poverty. He sometimes uses a dash of drama to make a point, so some in the 800-person audience thought Sroka’s “tired” comment was part of the presentation.
Then, suddenly, Sroka collapsed.
“It was the perfect time in the speech. Just half a second, then he went down,” recalled Andy Brenner, an associate principal at Medina High School, where the staff training session took place.
Brenner quickly realized it was no act. Sroka’s head hit the stage. Brenner and two school police resource officers ran to Sroka, who had no pulse and was not breathing. He was in cardiac arrest.
Officers Al Roland and Mike Wesner began CPR. Wesner grabbed a nearby AED and handed it to Brenner, who’d had updated training on how to use the device two weeks earlier. He hooked it up and cleared everyone back and the AED administered a shock. Sroka’s heart started within a minute.
“I went out to save the school, and the school ended up saving me,” Sroka said.
One of Sroka’s grown daughters, a school district psychologist who was not present but was contacted by a friend, provided her father’s medical information to those on the scene.
Emergency medical technicians took Sroka to Medina Hospital, where he was flown by helicopter to the Cleveland Clinic.
“They were great. They stabilized me. They told me to relax, just relax,” he said. But in the helicopter, Sroka said he “got this feeling that if I relax I’m going to die.”
“It just dawned on me, the power of one is not enough,” he said. “In life in general, you need the power of one. But you can’t make it with the power of one. You need the power of many.”
Sroka, 72, believes many people – the officers, the associate principal, the ambulance drivers, the hospital workers, the helicopter pilots and multiple others – saved his life that day, Jan. 15, 2016.
“I should have been dead,” he said. Only 12 percent of those experiencing sudden cardiac arrests outside a hospital survive, according to American Heart Association statistics.
Sroka didn’t drink or smoke. His only known heart problem was atrial fibrillation, an abnormal rhythm that can be managed with medication. He had worked out the day before his collapse.
“I thought I was healthy,” he said. “I got a nice wake-up call.”
Hospital tests revealed seven clogged arteries. Doctors placed five stents and later implanted a defibrillator in Sroka’s chest in case a shock to the heart is needed in the future.
Today, Sroka eats less salt, sugar and meat.
“We are killing ourselves in this country with forks,” he said. “We can do things to help offset the No. 1 killer in the country.”
Sroka volunteers with the American Heart Association to spread the word about prevention. He also assisted the nonprofit decades ago with anti-smoking efforts. Sroka underscores the importance of knowing CPR and how to use an AED.
“Knowledge is power,” said Sroka, an adjunct assistant professor in the School of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University and president of his company, Health Education Consultants. Sroka was among the supporters of Ohio legislation signed into law in June that requires CPR and AED training for high school students.
Brenner, the associate principal, agrees, noting that using an AED is fairly self-explanatory and the device guides the user on what to do.
Because Sroka didn’t get to finish his speech in Medina in January, he’s coming back to do it Friday, “with more heart,” he said.
“What’s happened to me has changed me and changed my mission,” he said. “My whole reason to live is to help people.”
Photos courtesy of Stephen Sroka