Dale Chormanski and his daughter, Erin, had just left a Bruce Springsteen concert in Cleveland shortly after midnight on Feb. 24, 2016.
Springsteen’s song, “My Hometown” was on the car radio. Dale told Erin Chormanski, who was driving, to turn up the song.
The song “meant something to me because I had just moved home,” said Erin, then 33 years old. She had recently returned to Northeast Ohio from Myrtle Beach for a job as a certified anesthesiologist assistant at University Hospital’s St. John Medical Center in Westlake.
But 10 seconds later, the Medina County man told his daughter to turn the music down.
“I reached for the knob, looked over and he was gone. His head was back and he was unconscious,” Erin recalled.
They would later learn that Dale, then 65, had suffered a cardiac arrest, which is 90 percent fatal even in the presence of emergency crews.
Half of cardiac arrest patients have no warning before they lose consciousness when their heart stops working. Death typically follows unless emergency treatment starts immediately.
Erin wasn’t supposed to be at the concert with Dale that night.
Dale’s wife, Marilyn, had bought the tickets as a Christmas present for the couple. But on the night of the concert, Marilyn was in Myrtle Beach watching Erin’s two children because Erin had moved to Ohio ahead of her family to start her new job.
This Easter, the family continues to thank God for the series of circumstances that put the right people at the right places at the right time to save Dale’s life.
“I definitely think it was divine intervention somehow,” Erin said. “It was all meant to be.”
On that fateful night three years ago, adrenaline and Erin’s medical training quickly kicked in.
“I started screaming ‘Dad! Dad! Dad!” Erin recounted recently while sitting at her parents’ Valley City home. “I realized I had to get over. I don’t know why, but I don’t remember pulling over. The next thing I remember was I checked for his pulse. He had no pulse. In my mind I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to have to do CPR. I dialed 911, put it on speakerphone and set it down.”
Erin was trained to do chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation as a medical professional. So she pulled her dad out of the car and began CPR — the first time she’d ever performed it in a real emergency.
Erin told the dispatcher that she had been driving south on Interstate 71 after they recently left the former Quicken Loans Arena. She explained they were near I-71 under a bridge overpass because it was raining.
As Erin performed CPR for about seven to eight minutes until the emergency crews arrived, her dad took one quick breath, but otherwise was not breathing.
Her location description was perfect for the emergency crews at Cleveland Fire Station 20. They knew that Dale and Erin were under the West 25th Street bridge, just minutes from their station. But they also knew that there was a concrete barrier between I-71 and a parallel road, and they weren’t sure on which side the Chormanskis were located.
Fire Lt./EMT Rob Schoeniger and his crew arrived on the wrong side of the concrete wall. The paramedics jumped over the wall to relieve Erin, who was still performing CPR.
Schoeniger, paramedics Gurpreet Grewa and Raul Robles, firefighter/EMT Michael Moore and firefighter/paramedics Shawn Amos and Joe Shiner worked together to shock Dale’s heart and lift him above the concrete barrier.
As his daughter and the emergency medical crew tried to save his life, Dale had a vision.
“I saw myself being put in the ambulance from up above,” he said. “I saw six people, actually seven figures. Six were blurry and the seventh was in the middle and was much larger and was all in white. I said, ‘Either that’s Erin or that’s my vision of Erin.’ I always felt she’s my guardian angel.”
Dale felt calm.
“I had a feeling of ‘Hey you know if I am dying, this isn’t so bad.' ”
Dale also saw someone handing him a cup with the words “Life” on it and as he got close, it lit up.
He later made a mug similar to the one in his vision.
Erin said she at first wasn’t sure what to think of her dad’s vision. But he was very consistent about it from the early days at the hospital.
“I believe there’s something to all the stories,” Erin said. “ I definitely think it’s true. I don’t know what it all means but I believe it.”
The emergency medical responders rushed Dale to the nearest hospital, MetroHealth Medical Center.
Unbeknownst to her, Erin had stopped essentially at the entrance ramp to MetroHealth.
Erin finally broke down when she got to the emergency room.
“When I saw him and he was unconscious, I asked if I could pray with him before they took him to the cardiac cath lab. I knelt down and held his hand and said a nice long prayer. That’s probably when internally I was understanding what was happening.
“A lot of people die during those procedures. I didn’t even know if I’d see him again like that,” she said.
Added Dale: “They told me 1 in 2,500 survives and much less without brain damage.”
Dale, who earned a journalism degree from Kent State and worked briefly as a journalist before his career in sales, has written a book called “When You Died” about that miraculous night and his recovery. When he awoke at the hospital after getting a stent and before he had triple bypass heart surgery a few days later, every doctor started their conversation with him by saying “well, when you died…”
“After about the fifth day … I said, ‘Hey doc, let’s not mention this anymore,' ” Dale said.
He hopes the book, which he self-published and is available on Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com and iuniverse.com ($13.99 paperback, $3.99 electronic), educates and inspires others.
During a reunion last week with Dale and four of the six Cleveland emergency crew members, the crew marveled at how many things fell into place to save Dale’s life.
Robles told Dale he remembers “that night vividly start to finish.
“Seeing from that night and being able to see you standing here with open arms … It’s amazing,” Robles said. “We’re all happy to be a part of this and happy to be here with you and carry a conversation.”
The crew agreed it’s a very rare occurrence and a career highlight to be able to reunite with a cardiac arrest patient — especially one who is nearly symptom-free. (Dale said he sometimes has leg pain, but otherwise is in good health.)
“I’m not sure if they realize the importance of what his daughter did,” Amos said.
Because Erin immediately performed CPR, she filled her father’s heart with blood and continued to give his brain oxygen, Amos explained.
Had Erin not done CPR, the crews would have had to take another two minutes to perform CPR before they could shock Dale’s heart.
Those minutes were precious.
“You can bring somebody back, but they’re not going to be any use if their brain is dying,” Amos said.
Erin was “the start of the chain that saved your life,” Shiner, one of four paramedics on the scene, told Dale. “If any one of those pieces had been missing, it would have been a bad outcome.”
Erin received an award from the city of Cleveland for saving Dale’s life, and the crew received an award from MetroHealth.
Still, Erin doesn’t believe she was a hero.
“I was just where I was supposed to be and did what I was supposed to do,” she said.
But her dad thinks otherwise.
So does his cardiologist, Dr. Matthew Kaminski of the Cleveland Clinic Beachwood Family Health Center.
Kaminski said it’s probable that what Dale described as shortness of breath as he and Erin walked to their car after the concert was actually a heart attack that then led to cardiac arrest.
Erin and the emergency crews saved Dale’s life, “beyond question,” Kaminski said.
“His is very sadly a very rare occurrence to have someone like Dale come back and be completely normal. It is rather miraculous,” Kaminski said.
Dale’s heart had very minimal damage and at his last checkup a year ago, his pumping function was normal, his doctor said.
Dr. Rami Akhrass, a Cleveland Clinic surgeon who performed the surgery at MetroHealth because the clinic runs the heart surgery program there, also is amazed by Dale’s story and recovery.
“I’ve been doing this for 20 some years … When you hear stories like this … it’s certainly very gratifying. The things that were against him and even with his daughter there — maybe it just wasn’t his time to go,” Akhrass said.
Kaminski even shared the story with his two young daughters one day during a trip to the zoo as they exited the ramp where Erin had saved her father
“This is where my patient’s daughter … saved his life,” he told them.
“They were kind of in awe of the story.”
Beacon Journal consumer columnist and medical reporter Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/topics/linfisher