Friends and strangers team up to save life of Cranberry man at Sewickley Heights park
By Kristina Serafini
Published: Wednesday, May 22, 2013, 8:08 p.m.
Squishing across the muddy meadow in purple-and-white-striped rain boots, Sherrard Bostwick sensed something was wrong.
She and her husband, Chuck Weintraub, have traveled from their home in Cranberry to Sewickley Heights Borough Park every Sunday morning with their dogs, Dama and Molly, for quite some time, and every week has more or less been the same. They'd chat with the same group of people, and their unleashed dogs greeted each other on the vast lawn.
But on March 10, things were different.
Dogs were leashed, and people were huddled to one side of the meadow. Scanning the area further, she saw Dr. Richard Cassoff, who she knew only from the park, and two Sewickley Heights police officers leaning over someone on the ground.
And then she saw Dama and Molly on their leashes being held back by park-goer Karen Mattson.
“Chuck?” she called out to Mattson, who replied with a nod and began to cry.
Bostwick had a work commitment that Sunday morning and had to drive to the park separately, but when she last saw Weintraub, nothing appeared amiss.
Now, she watched as Cassoff, police officers Dean Krakowiak and Salvatore Arena and another park-goer and nurse, Martha Luzer, performed CPR on him. She marveled at how calm everyone was and working together as if they had done this many times before.
“Right away (Cassoff) established (Weintraub) had a heartbeat, but he couldn't get him to breathe,” Bostwick said. He was taken by ambulance to Heritage Valley Sewickley hospital.
“I don't remember any of it,” Weintraub said — not the strange conversation he had with Mattson that prompted her to call 911, not collapsing a short time later, not being carried down the park's trail on a gurney to the ambulance and having to be stopped every few seconds to be given breath.
Weintraub underwent a series of tests and was hooked up to a breathing machine, but when that didn't work, he was placed in a medically induced hypothermic coma. Doctors weren't sure if he would wake up with brain damage — if he even woke up at all.
But by Wednesday, he had woken up and the first thing he asked was who was taking care of the dogs.
Weintraub had to wear a heart monitor for a while, but through that and other tests, nothing ever was found. He said doctors told him there was a vague possibility that he had a mini stroke in the part of the brain that controls the respiratory system.
He knows how lucky he is to be alive.
He credits Mattson, Cassoff, Luzer, another park-goer, Meg Forsyth, and officers Krakowiak and Arena for saving his life after he collapsed that morning two months ago.
Those six individuals were recognized during the Sewickley Heights Borough Council meeting Monday evening.
Weintraub and Bostwick made a donation to the Michael J. Crawshaw Memorial Fund in the officers' names, which will go toward improving and creating signage for a ballpark to memorialize fallen Penn Hills officer Michael Crawshaw.
A donation to the Sewickley Heights Park Fund was made in honor of Mattson, Cassoff, Luzer and Forsyth.
“I would have died if they hadn't been there,” Weintraub said.
“I'm very grateful for those people.”
Bostwick agreed. From the people who were first on the scene, to hospital workers, to the Sewickley Valley YMCA staff who had given her a guest pass so that she could take a shower, she is appreciative.
“Everybody took such care making it easy for me,” she said. “I felt like everyone cared as much as I did.”
Despite not knowing what caused him to stop breathing, Weintraub said he's not afraid of it happening again.
“Not at my age,” the 59-year-old said. “It's just another part of life.”
He said the only lasting effects from the scare have been that he appreciates life more — and the park.
“It's a fabulous park for conservancy and a wonderful place to go hiking,” he said. “It's great socialization for dogs and people.”
“It's definitely the highlight of our week,” Bostwick said.
“I appreciate it so much more than I even did before. I loved it before for its beauty and community. Now, I love it even more because I feel like it's the safest place you could be,” she said.
“For an incredibly miserable experience, it was the perfect place to have it.”
Kristina Serafini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1405 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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