Fans at Michigan-Notre Dame game save life of heart attack victim

Notre Dame fan suffers cardiac arrest -- but after CPR and defibrillator use -- survives to watch final touchdowns from his hospital bed



Photo Date: September 16, 2011

Quick care by football fans and cardiac teams at the U-M Cardiovascular Center got Notre Dame fan Leo Staudacher back in the game.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Leo Staudacher, 69, of Bay City, Mich., says he’ll never root against the Wolverines again after suffering a cardiac arrest at the University of Michigan-Notre Dame game Sept. 10.

The retired investor is what you’d call a die-hard college football fan.

His heart stopped beating during the second quarter of the game that drew a record-setting attendance of 114,804 to the U-M stadium. Staudacher had felt a sharp pain in his chest and shoulder and thought it was indigestion or heartburn. But after sitting down, he leaned forward and passed out in the stands.

Fortunately those around him knew CPR. Trenton dentist Marvin Sonne, of Farmington Hills, Mich., began chest compressions, while others called for help from the emergency medicine team stationed at the stadium.

“My family watched while they shocked me with the defibrillator,” says Staudacher who was in town with his sons ages, 45, 48 and 50. “But it was the fans and their prompt CPR that saved my life.”

Sonne, a 1973 graduate of the U-M School of Dentistry, has known CPR for more than 30 years. It's only the second time he's ever used the life-saving training and the first time he ever sat in the stadium's Section 6 where the cardiac arrest occurred. "I was in the right place at the right time," he says. 

CPR provides blood flow to the heart and brain and increases the likelihood that a shock delivered by an automated electric defibrillator will restore a normal heart rhythm.

The first aid station at the stadium's gate 9 was staffed that evening by Mark Lowell, M.D., a U-M emergency medicine physician who works with two or three emergency medicine residents including chief resident Mike Zimmer, M.D. 

They respond to cardiac arrest or intoxicated spectators and "whatever else comes with providing medical care for, what is in essence, a temporary city," Lowell says.

HVA staffs golf cart ambulances that can bring spectators to the 18-bed first aid station. The team shocked Staudacher's heart while he lay in the stadium and physicians would have to use the defibrillator three more times when his heart quit.

Staudacher was transported to the University of Michigan Health System where he was diagnosed with having a heart attack.

“We are indebted to the fast-reacting bystanders, excellent emergency medicine responders and the cardiac catheterization lab team who all gave us the opportunity to treat Leo in such a rapid way to limit the size of his heart attack,” says U-M interventional cardiologist Stanley J. Chetcuti, M.D., director of the cardiac catheterization laboratory at U-M.

“He got the chance to watch Michigan’s great comeback albeit at the expense of the Irish,” says Chetcuti.

In the cardiac lab, Chetcuti inserted a stent to open Staudacher's blocked artery -- a time-sensitive procedure that can save heart muscle and quality of life. But in this case, also in time for Staudacher to watch part of the last quarter of the game from his hospital bed. U-M won in the final two seconds, 35 to 31. 

“I saw the last two touchdowns from the intensive care unit,” says Staudacher who also celebrated his 51st wedding anniversary Sept. 10. He went home Thursday.

His family has always gone to great effort to watch Notre Dame play. He says, in the 1920s, his father would drive from Bay City to South Bend, Ind. to see the Fighting Irish take the field.

“The American Heart Association estimates that 295,000 people in the United States suffer sudden cardiac arrest outside the hospital setting and only 8 percent survive,” says Steven Kronick, M.D., M.S., associate service chief and clinical assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the U-M Health System. “But bystander CPR can double, or triple, chances for survival.”

Next week, the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center and U-M’s C.S. Mott Children's Hospital will host an educational forum 5:30-7:30 p.m. Sept. 22 at Kensington Court Hotel, 610 Hilton Blvd., Ann Arbor, to teach educators, coaches and child health experts how to respond to school emergencies on and off the field.

There will be an opportunity for hands-on practice sessions with automated electrical defibrillators and CPR.

“Every year, we hear about deaths among young athletes on the sports field or on the court,” says Mark Russell, M.D., pediatric cardiologist at the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. “It is a very devastating and very uncommon event. It will occur in about 100 athletes a year throughout the United States. That’s an incidence of about 1 in about 40,000.

U-M experts support having AEDs available in schools and the training of coaches and other school personnel on use and maintenance of the devices. Yearly training in basic life support or CPR for coaches and trainers can help them respond as quickly as possible in an emergency.

Emergency response training programs have the added benefit of not only improving a school’s ability to respond to an emergency that occurs on the sports field but to any emergencies that occur on school property. It will also prepare individuals who will take their emergency response skills to their home and to their community.


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