TEMPLE TERRACE - Registered nurse Eric Stockley remembers the day like it was yesterday.
The Port Charlotte resident was in town for some work-related training May 15, 1996, and at the end of the session the self-proclaimed health enthusiast decided to visit a nearby gym for a workout.
Having recently completed a 10,000-mile Australian bicycle trek and with just 8 percent body fat, the then-45-year-old was in the best shape of his life.
Or so he thought.
During his workout he began to experience intense pressure in the middle of his back, followed by profuse sweating and nausea.
Mindful he needed help in a hurry, Stockley managed to make it to the front desk, where he told the receptionist he was having a heart attack and asked her to call 911. And with that he collapsed.
The Temple Terrace Fire Department responded to the call by sending paramedic/firefighter Marsha Hall and rookie firefighter Keith Chapman.
Stockley survived the harrowing ordeal thanks to their proficiency and persistence.
And 15 years to the day Stockley and his wife, Melodi, paid a visit to Temple Terrace Fire Station No. 1 to thank Chapman -- now the city's fire chief -- and Hall for saving his life.
His first order of business was to present Hall, now a veteran engineer/paramedic who at the time of his heart attack had been with the department for four years, with a bouquet of 15 roses, one for every year since Stockley's death-defying ordeal.
In turn, fire department personnel presented him with a cake to mark his 60th birthday, which was the following day.
"We just can't thank you enough," said Melodi Stockley, who married Eric in 1997.
Hall recalled administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation to Stockley five times en route to University Community Hospital, where he received CPR three more times to restart the blood flow to his heart.
"He was literally deceased each of those times, but he was alert when he came to," she said.
"I knew he was healthy judging by him working out at the gym, but his heart was very, very unstable."
Stockley, who remembered his back was badly bruised due to the pressure Hall used, said he was grateful she didn't give up.
"He told me he was getting married so that was his reason to stay alive and my reason not to give up on him," Hall said.
Stockley now has a defibrillator implanted in his chest.
And he's back to his body-building routine and scuba diving.
"Everything was always special, but the last 15 years have been even more special," said Stockley, who as an employee of the Charlotte County Health Department, stresses to others the importance of learning basic skills such as CPR.
Chapman said Stockley's story represents what working in public safety is all about.
"It's happy endings like this that make it all worthwhile," he said.