By Ed Runyan
Tonight during the Christmas Eve Mass at Blessed Sacrament Church, three women will bring the body and blood of Christ to the altar in preparation for the liturgy of the Eucharist.
It will be a fitting testimony in a fitting location because three months ago, one of the women nearly died in that building, but the two others saved her life in what they all describe as a miracle.
“She wants to thank God under the same roof where her life was taken, and God gave it back,” Jackie Loges of Howland said of Demetra Tsilimos of Warren.
In the months since the heart attack that felled Tsilimos while she was participating in a Zumba exercise class on a busy Monday evening at Blessed Sacrament, the women have gotten together to talk about the unlikely circumstances that allowed Tsilimos’ story to have a happy ending.
Loges and a friend, Windi Kresic of Lordstown, were standing in a foyer near a room where the Zumba class took place when a woman came up and asked if anyone knew CPR.
“Windi and I looked at each other, and we say ‘Let’s go,’” said Loges, a stay-at-home mom who formerly worked as a registered nurse in intensive care.
The women entered the room containing about 20 women and saw Tsilimos, a woman in her early 40s, lying on the floor not moving. She had suffered a sudden heart attack and wasn’t breathing.
Loges kneeled beside Tsilimos’ chest and began CPR, while Kresic, a dental hygenist, gave Tsilimos mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
“We couldn’t have done it without each other,” Kresic said. “She did her end, and I did mine, and it gave us courage to do it together,” she said. Neither woman had ever saved someone with CPR and mouth-to-mouth before.
For close to 10 minutes they worked this way as they waited for an ambulance to arrive. Loges eventually asked about an automated external defibrillator, sensing that Tsilimos’ heart needed to be shocked back into action.
Loges had never used a portable AED, but following the directions proved to be easy, and the shock seemed to help, Loges said.
Still, when EMT’s loaded Tsilimos onto the gurney, it seemed clear to Loges that the woman they helped was probably not going to make it.
To their delight, in the days to come, they learned that Tsilimos had been moved to a room, an indication that she was doing better.
A couple of months later, Tsilimos tracked down her life-savers with assistance from the florist who delivered flowers from Loges and Kresic.
The women got together Thursday night at a Niles restaurant in part to marvel at the miraculous nature of Tsilimos’ survival.
Tsilimos’ doctor said less than 1 percent of people who suffer a serious heart attack and have to rely on bystanders for help for 10 minutes survive, especially with no lasting ill effects, such as brain damage.
“It’s a miracle I survived,” Tsilimos said Thursday.
“I’ve never seen a miracle like this, even in all my years in the hospital,” Loges agreed. “I feel if we had worked on Demetra 99 times, she wouldn’t have survived.”
Just as miraculous is the fact that Loges and Kresic came so close to going home multiple times before their life-saving abilities were called upon.
Because of a mix-up involving the seventh-grade volleyball game scheduled that evening for daughters of Loges and Kresic, the game was canceled, but a practice game was played.
At one point, Kresic’s daughter asked to go home because she didn’t feel well, but Kresic decided to stay. Loges also left once that evening to pick up her son. Both women’s departure also was delayed by a rainstorm.
“I feel like God put us there,” Kresic said. “We shouldn’t have been there.”
Furthermore, Tisilimos’ class had only used the room at the church for two weeks, having moved there from a different location.
“If [the heart attack] would have happened two weeks earlier, I would have never survived,” Tsilimos said.