Geneva man ‘grateful’ to rescuers at Naperville race

Steve Sloma’s memory of running a half marathon in Naperville last month goes something like this:

He signed up for the 13.1-mile race in the inaugural Edward Hospital Naperville Marathon, confident he could go the distance after running a handful of half marathons in the past. All was going well on the chilly Nov. 10 morning until somewhere in Springbrook Prairie Forest Preserve, around Mile 6, when he noticed he felt lightheaded.

“I had enough awareness that I knew something was wrong,” said Sloma, 38, of Geneva. “I sat down, put my head between my legs and that’s all I remember.”

A few minutes later, thinking he had fainted and then come to, Sloma remembers telling a crowd of nurses, police officers, paramedics and fellow runners he wanted to complete the race.

They would have none of it.

Sloma didn’t simply faint, but went into sudden cardiac arrest, Naperville Fire Chief Mark Puknaitis said Tuesday as he presented awards to several people who helped save Sloma’s life. Sloma had no history of heart trouble, but he survived a condition Puknaitis said strikes roughly 350,000 people in the U.S. each year, killing 95 percent of them before they can reach a hospital.

Three nurses who were running the half marathon, another runner who was with the nurses, a Navy reservist in his third year of medical school and a Naperville Park District police officer came to Sloma’s rescue by performing CPR and using an automatic external defibrillator to restart his heart, Puknaitis said.

Nurses Stephanie Chang, Merri Lazenby and Traci Iarrobino; half marathon runner Amy Drendel, who was running with the nurses; Navy reservist and Northwestern University medical student Yousef Ahmed; and Naperville Park District police officer Michael Kurinec were recognized with the fire chief’s award for saving a man Puknaitis said otherwise would not have made it through the day alive.

“I’m eternally grateful for all these folks,” Sloma said Tuesday as he shook his rescuers’ hands and doled out boxes of chocolates. “It’s one thing to know how to do all the things they know how to do, but it’s another just to step up and do it.”

Not long after finishing the half marathon, the nurses said Sloma was blue in the face and barely breathing when they saw him collapsed along the course. Glad for the support of others with medical training, the nurses performed CPR outside a medical setting for the first time until Kurinec drove up on his ATV to check on the commotion.

Kurinec gave the heart-starting automatic external defibrillator, or AED, on his vehicle to the nurses, who used the device to jolt Sloma back to life, Puknaitis said.

“It (the AED) shocked Steve back into a normal rhythm to the point that from what I understand, you wanted to finish the race. Well, our paramedics weren’t going to let you do that, now were they?” Puknaitis said to Sloma on Tuesday night.

“So he didn’t finish the race, but he’s got a long race to finish, here, if you know what I mean.”

With his wife and two kids in tow during Tuesday’s recognition ceremony, Sloma said he is thankful not only for the AED on the park district vehicle, but also for the heroes who used it.

“It saved my life and I don’t know how I could ever thank them,” he said.

Since the Nov. 10 race, Sloma had surgery to implant a cardiac defibrillator in his heart in case he experiences sudden cardiac arrest again. He said he plans to continue running once he is fully recovered from the surgery, although doctors told him they have not identified the cause of his heart trouble.

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  Steve Sloma, 38, of Geneva, said he is alive thanks to several nurses, public safety officials and bystanders who helped revive him when he went into sudden cardiac arrest near Mile 6 of the half marathon course in the inaugural Edward Hospital Naperville Marathon on Nov. 10. Marie Wilson/
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