Heartbeat awayWhen Don Magdzas’ heart stopped, his neighbors kept his blood pumping. When his breath failed, they gave him theirs.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
When Don Magdzas’ heart stopped, his neighbors kept his blood pumping. When his breath failed, they gave him theirs.
In September, three Foxboro residents – Sara Larsen, Rick Stromberg and Summit Volunteer Firefighter Willy Silvernale – will be honored for saving the life of Magdzas, a Wisconsin State Trooper who supervisor Sgt. W. Brett Heino calls “one of our best.”
It’s the first time in Heino’s 14 years as supervisor that civilians have received the Lifesaving Award, which is presented to troopers and inspectors who save a life.
That is what the trio, with the backing of the Summit Volunteer Fire Department, did. Firefighters were called to Magdzas’ residence for a burning outbuilding on April 20. It had been reported by Magdzas as he was leaving for work, putting him on duty at the time of the call. As firefighters started beating down the blaze, Silvernale looked over and saw the trooper lying on the ground.
“You go from one frame of mind to another,” Fegraeus said. “You’ve got two different mind sets, firefighting versus saving lives, and you’ve got to be able to switch pretty quick.”
Summit Emergency Medical Responder Bonnie Nikstad remembers hearing the call come out over her pager as she was leaving the golf course. First it was “man down.” That changed to “officer down.”
“I thought, ‘Holy Hannah,’” she said, as she responded.
“That’s not something you hear often around here,” said Summit Firefighter Andrew James.
At the scene, Silvernale and two neighbors who had walked over to see if they could help – Larsen and Stromberg – turned their attention to the downed officer. For approximately 20 minutes they, with the help of volunteer firefighters and emergency medical responders, performed CPR. Silvernale called a town of Superior firefighter to bring them the Automatic External Defibrillator from the Summit fire hall. Once the shock was delivered Magdzas’ heart began beating, firefighters said. But they continued to care for him until the Gold Cross Ambulance crew took over and transported him to a medical helicopter.
The outbuilding didn’t survive. Magdzas did.
“It really makes you feel all the work you put in training is worth it,” said Nikstad’s husband Dick, former fire chief and current firefighter.
“We worked together as a team,” Fegraeus said.
“Everybody doing their job,” James said.
The group is close and they often “click” on a fire scene, Bonnie Nikstad said.
“This time we clicked perfectly,” she said. “When we did this, we brought him back.”
One big stroke of luck was the fact that Larsen works at a cardiac care unit in Duluth, Heino said. Her know-how was invaluable. Stromberg stepped in to lend a hand. The fire department’s training played a role, as well.
“The ironic thing was we were all going through a CPR refresher course when this happened,” Fegraeus said.
The result was “like a miracle,” according to Heino.
Magdzas was back on duty within a month, cleared to perform emergency services for others. He has gone on to make felony arrests and was testifying on a case in Douglas County Court just this week.
Volunteer firefighters are the silent protectors of the community, said Summit Firefighter Jay Hunger. “A lot of people don’t know who you are.” That will change, briefly, for Silvernale.
At 1 p.m. Sept. 17, the public is invited to watch the three hometown heroes get their awards at the State Patrol Headquarters in Spooner. State Patrol Superintendent David Collins and Col. Ben Mendez will be traveling up from Madison to attend the event and celebrate the life that was saved.