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Survivor Honors Paramedics

How would you thank people who save your life? Is a call, an e-mail or a card enough?

Not for Mundelein-area resident Al Stensrud.

Six days after suffering a near-fatal heart attack at his home, the 47-year-old Stensrud on Tuesday walked into Countryside Fire Protection District Station No. 1 with his wife, Sandy, and reunited with the firefighter-paramedics who kept him alive on the way to the hospital.

Unsuccessfully fighting back tears, he shook hands with and hugged paramedics Mike Lynn, Dan Prezell and Mike Raasch and talked about the experience they shared one that included

Lynn performing CPR and twice shocking Stensrud s heart with a defibrillator to make it beat properly.

"It s not just a job, guys," Stensrud told the two paramedics. "You guys do it with passion, and you make a difference. You made a big freaking difference with me."

Stensrud and his wife, the parents of 5- and 3-year-old boys, were watching the televised NHL playoffs shortly before 11 p.m. May 13 when he started feeling uncomfortable. He d had similar pains before and actually was scheduled to undergo a cardiogram heart test the following morning.

When the pain grew more severe, Sandy Stensrud called 911. In less than 6 minutes, the Countryside ambulance crew was on the scene.

"I remember they got me into the ambulance right away," Stensrud recalled. "I didn t get too excited."

Sandy Stensrud said the scene was "like watching a movie, but we were in it."

Once in the ambulance, Lynn and Prezell hooked up Stensrud to a heart monitor that indicated he had a possible heart attack. Before they could head to Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, however, Stensrud went into cardiac arrest. Lynn performed CPR and shocked his heart, bringing him back.

"Within 30 seconds he looked up and said, What did you guys just do to me? " Lynn said. "I didn t want to tell him because I didn t want to scare him."

Still, Stensrud knew he was in bad shape.

"On the ride there (Lynn) kept saying Stay with me, and that s when I could tell this was really, really serious," Stensrud said.

Raasch joined Lynn and Prezell in the ambulance before they left for Condell.

Stensrud went into cardiac arrest one more time before they arrived at the hospital, and once again the medics shocked his heart to re-establish a proper rhythm.

When they got to Condell, a cardiac team was waiting for them in the emergency room.

"It was just like ER, the TV show," Sandy Stensrud said.

Doctors found one of Stensrud s arteries was 95 percent blocked. They put in a stent, a stainless steel tube that keeps an artery open for proper blood flow. By Saturday afternoon, Stensrud was home.

Firefighters and paramedics help people every day but rarely are put into lifesaving situations. The men who met with the Stensruds on Tuesday recognized the significance of the visit.

"The fact that Al is sitting here with us is a success of the system," Fire Chief Jeff Steingart said.

Added Deputy Chief Kris Kazian: "This is what we train for."

Stensrud said he ll never forget what the paramedics did and said he ll always be grateful.

"That s food for our soul," Steingart responded.

As a token of their appreciation, the Stensruds gave the crew some beef loin, fresh from the butcher. Even if Hallmark made a "You saved my life when I had a heart attack" card, Sandy Stensrud said, no words exist to describe her feelings.

"I can t imagine (life) without them," she said. "God bless them."

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