They performed CPR on the fallen bowler until paramedics arrived.
YOUNGSTOWN -- What was supposed to be a fun-filled evening of bowling and laughs became a matter of life and death recently for a Youngstown man.
Thomas Smith, 55, was bowling a good game Jan. 9 at Wedgewood Lanes in Austintown -- "18 strikes out of 19 frames" -- when he suddenly collapsed and went into cardiac arrest.
"He just dropped in the bowling lane. At first I thought he slipped, but then I saw he was vomiting, and I knew something was very wrong," said Smith's bowling partner, Bob Eckenrode, also of Youngstown.
A Youngstown firefighter with training in CPR, Eckenrode immediately rushed to Smith's side and was quickly joined by Sandi Guerrieri, a registered nurse who was a spectator at the bowling tournament.
"My husband, Danny, was also bowling in the tournament. I was sitting about five lanes down when I heard someone shout, 'Call 911!' I ran over to see if I could help," Guerrieri said.
Eckenrode and Guerrieri turned Smith over and tried to keep him stable, while checking his vitals.
"He was still conscious but disoriented," Eckenrode said.
When Smith suddenly went unconscious and his heart stopped beating, Eckenrode and Guerrieri immediately started CPR.
"We just looked at each other and said, 'It's time to start CPR,'" Guerrieri recalled. "I did chest compressions and Bob did mouth-to-mouth. We kept at it for about four or five minutes until the paramedics arrived. Every person in the bowling alley was gathered around watching."
When paramedics showed up, Eckenrode and Guerrieri continued to assist as paramedics used defibrillators to shock Smith's heart.
"They had to shock him three times before his heart started beating on its own," Eckenrode said.
After getting Smith's heart started, paramedics rushed him to St. Elizabeth Health Center, where he later underwent triple bypass surgery.
Doctors informed Smith's family that the four to five minutes of CPR performed by Eckenrode and Guerrieri most likely saved Smith's life.
"Doctors told us that he wouldn't have made it without them stepping in and doing CPR -- that it was one in 100 odds that he was still alive and truly a miracle," said Smith's daughter, Kelly McCormick of Campbell.
"The CPR kept blood circulating to the brain and other organs, which prevented brain damage. We are so grateful for what they did. We feel they deserve recognition for being so selfless," McCormich said.
CPR a success
Eckenrode and Guerrieri said they "feel very good" about having a hand in saving someone's life.
As a lieutenant with the Youngstown Fire Department, Eckenrode has performed CPR on people before, but he has never saved anyone from death's door.
"I've used CPR before to try to save victims of fires, but it was always too late," Eckenrode said.
Although Guerrieri was trained in Advanced Cardiac Life Support, she had never performed CPR on anyone besides a dummy during her 22-year nursing career.
"It was very different performing CPR on a real person in a real life and death situation," said Guerrieri, who works at Tippecanoe Endoscopy Center in Canfield. "Thankfully everything I learned just came back to me, and I wasn't nervous."
Since the fateful evening at the bowling alley, Eckenrode and Guerrieri have visited Smith in St. Elizabeth's, where Smith remains a patient.
"The first time I went to visit him and saw him in his hospital bed, I got chills realizing that I had something to do with saving this person's life," Guerrieri said. "He isn't a big talker, but he thanked me for helping him see another birthday."
Smith, who turned 55 Jan. 13, remains in the hospital and has no memory of his heart attack or the crucial moments that followed.
"I don't even remember being at the tournament that day," Smith said. "They could have told me Superman saved me, and I would have believed it. All I know is that I woke up in a hospital bed."
Besides having heartburn and indigestion the day of the bowling tournament, Smith, a construction worker, had no previous clues of his heart trouble.
"He had high blood pressure, but he'd never had a heart attack before," McCormick said.
Doctors expect Smith to make a full recovery, but once Smith gets back on his feet, he'll have to make some diet and lifestyle changes.
"I'll have to quit smoking and change the way I eat," Smith said. "But I'm gonna make it. I'll get used to it."
Smith will also have to get used to some teasing from Eckenrode.
"We've bowled together for several years, and we are always joking with each other and picking on each other. He's a macho sort of guy, and I've already been teasing him, saying, 'My lips were on yours,'" Eckenrode said with a laugh.