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“Good Samaritans save Northfield school official’s life at airport”

by Christine Adams, Freelance Reporter
as published in The Winnetka Current , August 1, 2019, and Glenview Lantern, August 18, 2019

A year after surviving a heart attack at Midway Airport thanks to the quick actions of four Good Samaritans, Christian Heritage Academy President Hutz Hertzberg is feeling better than ever and proclaiming his gratitude for those individuals, the staff of MacNeal Hospital in Berwyn, and the grace of God that he credits with orchestrating the nearly unbelievable circumstances that saved his life.

On June 23, 2018, the family from Glenview — Hertzberg, his wife Lynne and their then 8-year-old daughter Hiley — were awaiting a flight at Midway. After stopping by the airport’s chapel, where Hertzberg serves as senior protestant chaplain, the family used the restrooms.

By the time Lynne and Hiley walked out of the women’s room, Hertzberg was down on the ground in the concourse. He wasn’t breathing, had no pulse, his body was contorted, and he was turning blue.

A 10-year-old girl walking by ran to her father, former Air Force EMT Rick Yarbrough. While Yarbrough’s family distracted Hiley with a game of checkers so she would not have to witness her father in this state, Yarbrough was joined by three other medical professionals who were strangers to each other but happened to be nearby. 

While Yarbrough kept Hertzberg stable and counted the CPR rhythm, former Army nurse Dan Blasini performed chest compressions — so long and hard that they cracked every rib in Hertzberg’s body — nurse Bridgett Tyler kept Hertzberg’s airway clear, and EMT Erika Van Hook performed mouth-to-mouth and administered the automated external defibrillator found in the terminal.

“You would have thought they worked together for years,” Lynne said.

The team was able to bring back Hertzberg’s pulse and he resumed breathing, though he remained unconscious and still has no memory of anything from that day.

More remarkable than the successful life-saving measures, though, are the circumstances behind them: none of the four Good Samaritans are from the Chicago area, but had simply converged at Midway at the exact time their services were needed. 

Yarbrough’s direct flight from Raleigh to Denver had been canceled, rerouting him through Chicago; Blasini had arrived at the airport four hours early despite normally being a last-minute flyer; and Tyler wasn’t even supposed to be at the airport, but she felt an urgent need to get there, even u-turning on the highway, to say one last goodbye to her niece who was leaving for Navy A School. The paramedics that had been called to rush Hertzberg to the hospital were stuck in traffic, meaning that if these four didn’t stop, Hertzberg would have had no chance.

At MacNeal Hospital, doctors determined Hertzberg had two blockages in his arteries, and performed surgery to clear them and place two stents. 

While the Hertzbergs were told that fewer than 5 percent of patients survive out-of-hospital cardiac arrests, and fewer than 1 percent survive without mental or physical deficits, Hertzberg miraculously beat those odds, as he was discharged from the hospital just three days later and returned to work after one month.

“I feel like I’m doing better than I was before (the heart attack),” Hertzberg said after 36 sessions of cardiac rehab later.

To celebrate the extraordinary event, MacNeal Hospital coordinated a reunion in June between Hertzberg and the Good Samaritans, flying in all four of them plus their families and planning a weekend of activities, celebrations and a thanksgiving prayer service and reception.

In addition to their gratitude for the medical professionals, the Hertzberg family also credits what Hutz calls “an outpouring of love, concern and prayers” from Northfield’s Christian Heritage Academy with providing his needed spiritual strength. 

While Hertzberg was in grave condition, Lynne only had time to send three quick texts requesting prayers, and that small request resulted in 100 people meeting in the CHA parking lot the next morning to pray.

Though Hertzberg says he has long believed that “every day is a gift and we’re not promised tomorrow,” those words now mean more to him and his family than ever.