Unexpected lifesavers: Locals honored for helping four people suffering from sudden cardiac arrest

FARGO - John Bonicelli was feeling great on Dec. 27.He dropped his girls off at day care and headed to Family Wellness, 2960 Seter Parkway, for a routine workout."I did some stretching, shot some free throws, did some weights and then sat them do...
Marcus Stalboerger shows off a T-shirt Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018, at an award ceremony with Fargo Fire Chief Steve Dirksen honoring Stalboerger’s co-workers at Healthcare Accessories in Fargo for performing CPR and using an AED on him when he went into sudden cardiac arrest on Jan. 11, 2018. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

FARGO - John Bonicelli was feeling great on Dec. 27.

He dropped his girls off at day care and headed to Family Wellness, 2960 Seter Parkway, for a routine workout.

"I did some stretching, shot some free throws, did some weights and then sat them down on the rack," he said. "I got a little lightheaded and dizzy, sat down and the next thing I know, I'm getting woken up."

The 36-year-old man, tall and fit, doesn't look like a victim of sudden cardiac arrest, but that's exactly what happened that day. He was told later by doctors that it was something like "medical lightning," a "weird, bizarre thing" that was life-threatening.

But Bonicelli wasn't alone, and that's why he's still here to talk about it - and share his gratitude with the group of people who saved his life during a special recognition event Tuesday, Feb. 6, at Family Wellness hosted by F-M Ambulance Service and the Fargo Fire Department to put some recent local lifesavers in the limelight.

Bonicelli's survival of that incident started with two other people at Family Wellness that day, Danica Greer and Ryan Thompson, who realized he was in trouble and notified staff. Employees immediately jumped into action and were able to perform CPR and get his heart beating again with an automatic defibrillator even before first responders arrived to bring him to the hospital.

"I definitely had the A-team," he said.

Two days later, Bonicelli was back home recovering with an automatic implantable cardioverter defibrillator in his chest to monitor and stabilize his heart rate.

Taking action

F-M Ambulance Communications Manager Don Martin said he likes organizing events like Tuesday's awards program.

"That means that we have survivors, and it means that what we're doing is we're doing it right," he said.

The four stories of relatives, neighbors or colleagues taking action to save a life discussed all came down to regular people relying on past training to perform CPR or use an automatic defibrillator when necessary.

That includes Adam Walker, a man who became an unexpected hero as he got home Oct. 23, 2017.

Walker wasn't all that surprised to see his neighbor under a truck that day. Randy Kirkevold often worked on his pickup in his driveway, so Walker walked up to say hello.

Kirkevold was unresponsive, and the CPR training Walker did years ago in high school took over. He called 911, pulled Kirkevold from under the vehicle and started administering CPR, getting assistance with counting from a 911 operator until the man was taken away in an ambulance.

Things looked grim that day, Walker said. But after three weeks in a coma and even more time in the hospital, Kirkevold is back home and said he's feeling much better.

"You can never really thank him enough, and this is just one small token," Kirkevold said about Tuesday's event.

Darlene Griffin was also recognized for her quick action after realizing her cousin, Lori Washington, was in trouble on Dec. 26. Griffin said she learned CPR at her former job in a hospital years ago, which is how she knew what to do when her cousin needed it.

"I'm so thankful that she's still here," she said.

Marcus Stalboerger was standing in a hallway on Jan. 11 chatting with a co-worker at Sanford's Healthcare Accessories one minute, seemingly fine until he woke up on the floor.

Martin said the man had a "lot of angels" that day, referring to the co-workers who called 911, performed CPR and used an AED on the man until emergency crews took over.

Stalboerger took a moment Tuesday to show the souvenir he got from his colleagues, a shirt that said, "My team saved my life and all I got was this lousy t-shirt."

Chief Steve Dirksen said the Fargo Fire Department and other agencies get called first responders, but that label might be better-suited for people like the lifesavers who were being recognized on Tuesday.

"In these cases today that we're talking about, you actually acted and did something to change and to save a life of somebody," he said.

That's why Dirksen said it's so important for more people to get trained in case they can help someday.

Martin, too, made that point, and invited residents to stop by F-M Ambulance's Save a Life event from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 10, at West Acres Shopping Center. Participants can get a quick introduction to hands-only CPR that day in front of the Macy's store.