Runner recalls 'Great' scare
Bruce Cornrich does not remember putting on his running shirt and racing bib, though a photo he found later on his phone proves he did.
He does not remember driving to the starting line of the Great Race on Sept. 25. He does not remember wishing good luck to his girlfriend, a seeded runner who finished second in her age group.
And he does not remember collapsing on Fifth Avenue in Oakland, just over two miles into the race.
“It's crazy,” Cornrich, 53, of New Castle said Friday from his hospital bed at UPMC Presbyterian. “I remember eating a couple handfuls of dry cereal in the morning. The next memory I have is in the ICU. I had IVs in my hand. I was like, ‘I must be dreaming.' It was so bizarre.”
Cornrich went into cardiac arrest during the annual 10k race from Frick Park in Squirrel Hill to Point State Park, Downtown.
Only 10 percent of people in the United States who suffer cardiac arrest survive, said Dr. Jon Rittenberger, associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Pittsburgh and Cornrich's post cardiac arrest physician at UPMC Presbyterian.
Cornrich collapsed face first on the pavement, resulting in several road rash injuries.
A crowd of 15 to 20 people gathered around him, yelling “man down” and waving frantically at a police officer a block away.
Danielle Bajus, an acute care nurse practitioner at UPMC Presbyterian who was running the race, took command.
She instructed runners to roll Cornrich onto his back and elevate his head. She and two other paramedics running the race performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation; an emergency medical technician shocked him with a defibrillator.
“It's still a little surreal,” Bajus said. “With my training, I'd like to think I save lives every day. But because it was out in the street in the middle of a race, it was a little different.”
Cornrich survived because multiple steps were performed perfectly, Rittenberger said:
Bajus and the two paramedics — Jennifer McDermott-Grubb and John Dombrowski — were there to immediately perform CPR; EMS crew chief Mark Bonasso shocked him back to life with a defibrillator; ambulance paramedics maintained a pulse; and it all happened in the shadows of a hospital that specializes in heart care.
“We got him cooled down to protect the brain, then warmed him back up,” Rittenberger said. “The whole system worked for him.”
He said the event illustrates the importance of learning CPR. State legislators are considering House Bill 1464, which would require high school students to learn CPR as a graduation requirement.
Cornrich, a pharmacist, is scheduled for heart bypass surgery Tuesday. He intends to run the Great Race again next year.
Heart problems run in his family — his mother had open-heart surgery — but Cornrich said he never showed symptoms of heart disease.
“No shortness of breath, no chest pain. My cholesterol and blood pressure is good. Nothing,” he said. “When my mom and sister told me what happened, I just couldn't believe it. I thought I was a healthy guy. I eat right. I run all the time. My body weight is good. I never had a problem.”
He urged people to have their heart health checked, even if they feel healthy.
“God and the angels were running with him,” said his mom, Patricia Cornrich.
So was Bajus.
Chris Togneri is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5632 or firstname.lastname@example.org.