Bruised and bleeding, a dazed Tony Lindeman finally came to the realization he was lying in an Akron City Hospital emergency room.
“Today is the luckiest day of your life,” said a nurse attending him.
“I don’t feel very lucky,” Lindeman responded, bewildered about why he was not still running the Akron Marathon.
“When you come to understand what happened, you will,” the nurse said.
What Lindeman didn’t know at that time was that a half-hour earlier, he had dropped dead.
He felt perfectly fine when the race bell sounded at 7 a.m. Sept. 29, releasing 13,000 runners in the pre-dawn darkness that still enveloped downtown Akron.
It was his eighth marathon — third in Akron — since friends coaxed him into taking up the hobby a decade ago.
As expected, his pals passed him in the first mile as they crossed the All-America Bridge into North Hill. They were out of sight by the time he reached Tallmadge Avenue, but no matter. They were always faster in the beginning, but Lindeman’s slow-and-steady strategy would allow him to catch up down the road.
Lindeman doesn’t remember making the turn onto Schiller Avenue near the second mile marker.
But Heather Pariso will never forget.
A 34-year-old surgical nurse from Coventry Township, Pariso was running the first leg of her team relay when she saw Lindeman leave the street, run onto the sidewalk and collapse.
“I just thought he tripped on uneven pavement,” she said. “I went to him right away, but as soon as I got to him, I saw he hadn’t tripped.”
Pariso wrestled Lindeman’s prone body onto his back and saw he was no longer breathing.
Instinctively, she placed the heel of her palm in his chest and manually pumped his heart.
Other willing Samaritans, all medical professionals who were running that day, stopped to offer help. One applied mouth-to-mouth CPR. Someone called 911. Others began to pray.
Pariso and a nurse who ran to the scene from nearby Summa St. Thomas Hospital kept up the forceful, rhythmic chest compressions for several minutes until an ambulance arrived. Paramedics used a defibrillator to restart Lindeman’s heart.
“When he got onto the ambulance, I called my relay person to let them know I was on my way. I knew they’d be wondering where I was since I was way behind,” Pariso said. “I was bawling my eyes out. They asked what was wrong and I said, ‘Someone died, but he’s OK now.’ ”
Wife waits at race
As the ambulance made its way to Summa’s City Hospital, Ann Lindeman stood on a downtown Akron sidewalk wondering where her husband was.
She was registered to run a late leg of a team relay, so she had been able to see him off at the starting line with time to spare for one final cheer when he returned southbound on the All-America Bridge.
Ann Lindeman rooted as her husband’s running mates finished the bridge loop and passed by her on High Street, then waited for Tony.
As the minutes ticked by, she convinced herself she had missed him. It was early in the race and the running pack was thick, she told herself.
She checked the clock on her cell phone to see if she needed to abandon her post to catch the bus to her team relay point when she saw she had missed a call from the Akron Police Department. The police acquired her number from marathon officials off Lindeman’s emergency contact information.
“I called them back, and they said there had been an incident and that he was OK, but he’d been taken to City Hospital,” she said.
Not knowing what happened, she tried to remain calm as she walked several blocks to her parked car.
At the hospital, she found her husband’s face raw and bloody from the spill, and he complained of a sore chest and aching bones throughout his body. But he was sitting up in bed and talking.
“I still didn’t understand until the emergency room doctor said, ‘Do you know what just happened?’ ” she said.
Collapse a mystery
Tony Lindeman remained in the hospital for five days. He said the doctors told him his arteries weren’t blocked and that he had a healthy, strong heart.
“It was sort of like my electronic system went off that day,” Lindeman said.
While he awaits surgery to implant a defibrillator, he temporarily has been fitted with a vest and monitoring device that will shock his heart if it stops again.
Lindeman, a 46-year-old Doylestown councilman, FirstEnergy analyst and father of two teenage girls, said he doesn’t know if he’ll be allowed to run again. To be honest, he said, he’s a little nervous about doing anything until he better understands why his heart failed him.
“They told us 98 percent of the people [whose hearts stop] are due to a heart attack or a blockage,” Ann Lindeman said. “He’s in the 2 percent that they can’t explain.”
Tony Lindeman and his roadside savior are still in contact and text each other regularly.
Pariso, who works at City Hospital, said she visited him at the hospital after the race that day and “I was in shock myself to see how well he was doing.”
For her part, she’ll never be the same. While she has administered CPR to cardiac patients numerous times, she never had to apply it outside of a hospital setting, let alone to an otherwise healthy athlete on the street.
“I’ve been affected because it was so unexpected,” she said. “I hug my husband and kids a little longer now.
“I wasn’t even where I was supposed to be. I was already running behind schedule, but now I feel like it was for a reason,” she said. “I was there because I was supposed to be there. I think about it every day.”
Preparing for worst
Akron Marathon Executive Director Anne Bitong said she was thankful for how everyone responded to the crisis.
For the first time this year, the marathon offered American Red Cross CPR training to the race-day volunteers, a tradition the organizations intend to repeat annually.
Prior to this year, CPR has only been given on the course one other time, to a 61-year-old grandfather who died after collapsing during the team relay in 2005.
“But when you plan an event for 15,000 people, you have to plan for the worst-case scenario, so we wanted to be prepared,” Bitong said.
With Lindeman’s experience this year, she said, “there’s a message here: that through the quick efforts of runners and bystanders and our organization, there is a story we can use to further educate people about the need” for CPR training.
Lindeman has another message.
It’s for a host of people for whom he has no name, or only a first name. It’s for Lynne, Harry, Jeff, Joy, Erin, Kim, Tara, and Brandy. It’s for the police officers and EMTs who attended to him on the city street, the bystanders who prayed over his lifeless body, the marathon officials who have called regularly to check up on him. And it’s for Pariso, whom Lindeman calls his “angel.”
“I’m alive today because of them,” he said, “and I can’t thank everyone enough.”