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Oak Lawn man meets his angel

Nurse saved his life after heart attack last year

(From July 19, 2012)

Tears came easier than words for Gerald Boekeloo when he met for the first time the woman who saved his life.

Boekeloo was on Tuesday introduced to Dawn Bausone-Gazda, an Advocate Christ Medical Center nurse who revived Boekeloo using CPR on after the Oak Lawn man suffered a heart attack while driving last November. Boekeloo until Tuesday did not even know his heroine's name - Bausone- Gazda left the scene of the accident after bringing him back to life.

"I looked high and low and here I am ready to meet her," Boekeloo said moments before his heroine's identity was revealed. "She's my guardian angel."

Boekeloo, 69, was driving to Advocate Christ last Nov. 19 because he was not feeling well. Looking back, Boekeloo said he should have dialed 911. He suffered a heart attack near 95th Street and Cicero Avenue, just blocks from Christ, but managed to maneuver his car into the parking lot of White Castle, at the corner of the busy intersection. There, Bausone-Gazda spotted Boekeloo lain on the pavement, surrounded by people who had aided him out of the car.

Bausone-Gazda, 48, a Burbank resident and nurse for 25 years at Christ, said she checked Boekeloo's pulse, and when she did not fell one began to administer CPR.

"I did what I was trained to do," Bausone-Gazda said. "After the paramedics arrived I knew he was in good hands so I left."

The nurse left the scene without being identified.

Boekeloo died upon arrival at Christ Advocate, but was revived a second time by hospital staff members. Cardiologist Thomas Levine credits his second restoration to Bausone-Gazda's earlier work.

"I believe the quick and initial administration of CPR made it possible for his lungs to revive," Levine said.

Boekeloo, who is on the heart donor recipient list, said he is doing well today.

"I wouldn't be here if it were not for [Bausone-Gazda]."

Boekello greeted Bausone- Gazda Tuesday with a card and bouquet of flowers, but explains he will never be able to repay her.

"I could give her a $3 million and that still wouldn't be enough," Boekeloo said. "I enjoyed life before, but now it's beautiful. All I can say is thanks."

Advocate Christ medical director for the Center of Heart Transplants, Geethat Bhat said Boekeloo is very lucky to have run into Bausone-Gazda. Eightyfive percent of people who suffer heart failure outside a hospital die, she said.

Boekeloo spent three months in the hospital and learned of his hero and the events through hospital staff. He began searching for his unknown heroine through police reports and hospital staff accounts, but was unsuccessful in learning her identity.

Unbeknownst to Boekeloo, he and Bausone-Gazda had met once before. While he was being treated at Christ, Bausone-Gazda was called to his room to cover for another nurse who was unavailable. She figured out who he was as they began taking about his heart attack.

"I didn't know who he was, and as we started talking I realized it was him," Bausone-Gazda said.

Bausone-Gazda told Boekeloo her account of the event, but chose not to tell him who she was because she did not want to cause him any stress while he was recovering. With the help of Shirl Wilson, a nurse at Advocate who knew both parties were in the hospital, a reunion was set up and the two were reintroduced.

"When I got the call they had found her, I cried," Boekeloo said.

Bausone-Gazda said she is happy she and Boekeloo were reunited.

"This is the reason I become a nurse, thank you for reminding me," she told Boekeloo.

Boekeloo has been diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart fails to pump blood to the rest of the body. Boekeloo already had a defibrillator, but his condition was so dire the day he was brought to Christ that he was determined to need a heart transplant, Bhat said. A patient can spend months or even years waiting for a matching donor, so Bhat transplanted a left ventricular assist device into Boekeloo's heart.

A ventricular assist device is a circulatory device commonly used in patients who survive heart attacks or heart surgery. The device pumps blood for the heart and acts as a temporary solution until Boekeloo can receive a heart transplant. Boekeloo is now on the heart donor list, but could be waiting years for a new heart.

"The device typically last for six to seven years," Bhat said. "It acts to bridge the gap between diagnoses and surgery."

With advancements of the devices, first approved for use in the U.S. by the FDA in 1994, the quality of life for patients with the device have improved drastically over the last 10 years, Bhat said.

Bhat said Boekeloo's incident demonstrates the importance of knowing CPR, and for people to be aware of their heart conditions.

"Everything worked out for him," Bhat said. "He would not have made it to me without her help."