WEST ALLIS - The holiday lights twinkled merrily in the dark Christmas night, but inside the West Allis apartment of Walter Schneider, there was screaming, horror and panic.
His daughter, Kayla, was screaming into the phone for help. Her father's heart had stopped. The 911 dispatcher on the other end of the line desperately tried to calm the horrified 22-year-old so she could coach her in how to perform CPR. Meanwhile, neighbor Garrett Mentel was relaxing with his wife watching television when he heard Kayla's anguished voice.
He heard, "Hurry, he isn't breathing," Mentel said.
He helped Kayla pull Schneider to the floor from the couch where he collapsed. Then, with the 911 dispatcher coaching them, Kayla started CPR chest compressions to try to get blood flowing again to Walter's brain. Seeing how upset she was, Mentel swiftly took over compressions. Together they worked on Schneider while rescuers from a West Allis fire engine company and Greenfield paramedics rushed to the scene, sirens blaring and lights flashing.
West Allis paramedics aboard the fire engine arrived first. Taking over CPR, Guy Carriveau and Jake Dettmering employed lifesaving techniques, delivering two electrical shocks to Schneider's heart with a defibrillator. Greenfield paramedics then arrived with additional lifesaving equipment.
Paramedics gave Schneider an IV and cardiac drugs and delivered a third shock. That's what finally did it. Walter had a strong pulse and his blood pressure came up.
Only a month after that brush with death, Schneider is enjoying life.
Last Friday, Jan. 27, he and those who battled to save his life got together for a celebratory lunch at West Allis Fire Station One.
"It was a minor miracle," said West Allis Fire Captain David Bandomir. "This is a rare outcome," he said, noting that only about one out of 10 people who have heart attacks outside of hospitals survive. The only way it happens is through teamwork, he said, paying tribute to the critical role Greenfield paramedics played.
"They're great partners in what we do and this patient's outcome shows that," Bandomir said.
Greenfield Battalion Chief Dan Weber agreed that teamwork saves lives: "It's a testament to how well our communities work together."
Of all the people in that apartment who fought for Schneider's life, Schneider knows the least about what happened. He and his daughter had returned about 10 p.m. from a big family Christmas celebration in Hartford. They had just finished carrying the gifts in when he felt bad. It wasn't like his first heart attack, that happened the day after Christmas 14 years ago. He was only 40 years old when the first one hit, but he has a lot of heart attacks in his family. He had pain and his left arm went numb. But this time, there was nothing except extreme fatigue.
"There was no pain, I felt real tired," Schneider said. "My body got real heavy and I felt myself going down."
Immediately, daughter Kayla Schneider, 22, was in a nightmare.
"I thought, oh no, this is not happening," she remembers. But right away, she called 911, where the dispatcher told her to calm down and that she had to perform CPR.
That was horrifying news. The closest Kayla had been to CPR was watching it in the movies and TV.
"I was panicking," she said, "But at the same time thinking, this is his life. I need to at least try."
The dispatcher told her to get her father onto the floor, to put her hands on his chest and pump, Kayla said.
Mentel, their neighbor, had been trained in CPR at work and rapidly took over.
Even though he only knew Schneider to say "hello" to in the hallway, Mentel knew he wanted to do everything he could to save him.
"With all the Adrenalin, it was like I was totally taken over by someone else," Mentel said. "Afterward, I freaked out."
The 911 dispatcher played a critical role, he said.
As a 911 West Allis dispatcher for more than five years, Natalie Dobschuetz has coached many hysterical callers in how to do CPR. Getting them calm and focused so they can follow directions is crucial, she said.
Dispatchers, being the first link in the chain, sometimes don't hear whether people survive. She was delighted that the Christmas call had a happy ending.
"It feels good that we saved somebody's father and that he'll be around for another Christmas," Dobschuetz said.
For his part, Schneider said, "I'm feeling very blessed." A lot of people came to his side when his life hung over an abyss.
Speaking particularly of his neighbor, Schneider said, "I'm pretty sure, if it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be here."
A few days ago, Schneider expressed his thanks to Mentel by giving him gift certificates.
"He looks really good," Mentel said.