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West Allis - Thomas Hesse, 69, was walking to the dugout from right field at the West Allis Sports Complex when everything went dark.

His heart had lost its rhythm. Suddenly, Hesse went from playing softball to dying on Sept. 6.

Earlier this week, weather permitting the two softball players who rushed to apply CPR and keep Hesse's life's flame from extinguishing were to be honored.

Looking forward to standing there and expressing more gratitude than anyone else was Hesse.

"The doctors told me it was a miracle that I was alive," Hesse said  Monday. "Less than 5 percent of those having a sudden cardiac arrest outside a hospital survive," his doctors told him, Hesse said.

"If they had't done CPR," he said, "I would have been dead."

Rescuers honored

For their actions, the West Allis Fire Department honored John Kerhin and Timothy Books before their teammates and others. Kerhin, Books and Hesse all play in the West Allis-West Milwaukee senior softball league. It was their first game of the fall season.

In addition to helping save a life Fire Captain David Bandomir said,  "We're celebrating them jumping in without hesitation."

"They certainly made a difference," Bandomir said.

Kerhin said he was playing on a different diamond when he heard someone yelling, "Does anybody know CPR?"

"I ran over," he said and found a couple of people trying to help a man lying on the ground.

"I took over chest compressions," Kerhin said, and he stayed at it until paramedics arrived.

Reaction instant

His reaction was instant.

"I was a first-responder at work," which means if someone collapsed, he was the one to handle the situation, he said. But it had been 10 years since he had gone through CPR classes. Even so, Kerhin is somewhat of a pro. He had applied CPR on two other people who collapsed. They later died - one of an aneurysm and the other from a massive heart attack.

He didn't stand a chance of saving either one of them, but saving Hesse was different.

He was elated when he learned that Hesse would survive.

"I felt terrific," Kerhin said.

He also saved two choking victims by performing the Heimlich maneuver. His name is familiar to those who follow the West Allis-West Milwaukee School Board where board member and former board president Pat Kerhin is his sister-in-law.

Team effort

While Kerhin was pumping Hesse's chest to keep blood flowing, Books lifted Hesse's chin to keep his airway open.

Books has done CPR several times during his 12 years as an emergency medical technician with the Wales-Genesee volunteer fire department. He had been playing right field and catcher that day and was already in the dugout when he saw Hesse, a teammate, on the ground between first and second base.

"I thought he was a goner," Books said Monday. "He had no pulse for 10 minutes." The citizen rescuers stopped briefly as they went along to check for a pulse.

Although paramedics got there in less than four minutes, Hesse could well have had no pulse for 10 minutes, Bandomir said.

Only compressions

The rescue pair didn't do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation which is part of CPR procedure. Instead, they did only chest compressions which is promoted as a form of CPR that the public can do without extensive CPR training. Public CPR is recommended when a mask or a one-way valve is not available for mouth-to-mouth.

In the first minutes of a cardiac incident, the blood has enough oxygen to keep the body going, Bandomir said. That's why immediate chest compressions are so important, he said.

All the while they were doing CPR, Books was talking to Hesse, encouraging him and letting him know that help was on the way.

Although Hesse was unconscious, "I talked to him. They can still hear you. I believe it helps," Books said.

Battle continues

Even after paramedics arrived, the battle for Hesse's life was far from over. On the way to the hospital, the paramedics had to shock Hesse's heart multiple times, Bandomir said.

For their part in the lifesaving effort, the medical crew and even the dispatcher who took the call also were to be honored.

"It takes a team to save a life," Bandomir said. "One piece missing and the whole thing falls apart."

Assistant Chief Kurt Zellmann who was on that rescue call was to present the awards.

The morning ceremony also included training everyone there in public CPR.

"We really want to promote people helping people," Bandomir said. "We need more of that."

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