In the summer of 2010, paramedic Matt Johnson received an email from a man who said that Johnson had saved his life. The man wrote that, a year prior, Johnson was the lead EMT who resuscitated him after he suffered a cardiac arrest. The goings-on of that night eventually came back to Johnson, and the two set up a time to meet when the man returned to the Twin Cities from his home in Winnipeg.
The man was Garry Frankel, a longtime volunteer photographer at Target USA CUP.
Frankel and Johnson formed a lasting friendship based on their unique first meeting – one that Frankel didn’t even remember, given his medical situation. Eventually, Frankel sought out each person who helped him that night and contacted them.
“It’s been a lot of fun to have a cardiac arrest survivor who wants to do more than just a meet and greet,” Johnson said. “It’s an anomaly to have a survivor patient of yours become a friend, and you’re hanging out.”
On July 19, 2009, Frankel went to sleep at his hotel, preparing to photograph the first day of USA CUP the next morning. He woke up in Mercy Hospital two and a half weeks later to find out he’d had a cardiac arrest that night. According to his wife and other witnesses, Frankel started making strange noises at 1:30 in the morning and stopped breathing. His wife Debbie called the front desk and two security guards rushed from the front desk to give him CPR. Paramedics arrived and took him to Unity Hospital before he was ultimately transferred.
Frankel said it took him a year to recover, a process that started out rocky because the hospital wanted to get him to Manitoba as soon as possible for travel health insurance reasons. After another week and a half spent in a hospital in Winnipeg, Frankel went home. It wasn’t easy to get back to full strength, but Frankel savored the milestones.
“The first day I could I walked around the block, which was a huge moment because prior to that I had been too weak to stand up and too weak to walk,” he said.
Once he had fully recovered, Frankel thought about the people who had saved his life, people he had no recollection of. He already felt a sort of connection to them because he had been a full-time EMT in Winnipeg for 9 years.
“Whether you’re a first responder, you work in an emergency department or you work in an intensive care unit, you never get to see the final outcome of your patients,” Frankel said. “So after making it home and recovering, I thought ‘It would be nice to go back and meet everyone who touched me and show them that I’m here, I made it.’”
That decision turned into long friendships with a few of the people who saved Frankel’s life. The first person to reach Frankel and give him CPR was a veteran named Robert Smith; Frankel is still in contact with him. Frankel ice fishes with Johnson consistently. Frankel invited them to a party before the start of this year’s Target USA CUP.
Since he recovered Frankel has worked to raise awareness about cardiac arrest; he belongs to Minnesota Sudden Cardiac Arrest Survivor’s Network, which is responsible for getting automated defibrillators into sheriff’s cars and other police vehicles, along with the highway patrol. He also helps teach CPR classes when he comes back to the U.S.
“I never pass up the opportunity to get in front of the media and share the story, the idea being that the more people who are properly trained in CPR and AED, the better,” he said.
Frankel’s near-death experience gave him a new perspective and a fire to combat cardiac arrest. Johnson said that Frankel invited him to a convention where he took part in a CPR class taught by cardiac arrest survivors.
“I thought that was the most impactful thing I’ve seen in my life,” Johnson said. “They have a much, much, much more powerful message to give to the public when they’re teaching their CPR classes and they’re saying “It works. I’m proof.’”
Frankel was quite fortunate to survive. The first responders had just completed their CPR class two weeks prior, and they were in his room within a matter of seconds, key to his chances of survival. If he had been at his home in Winnipeg, it would have taken five to 10 minutes to make first contact.
Frankel hasn’t forgotten his good fortune. The unlikelihood of his survival informs his passion to fight cardiac arrest.
“Because the people happened to be where they were, almost by accident, that’s why I’m here,” Frankel said. “One of the reasons why I was successfully resuscitated is because there was an active group of cardiac arrest survivors working in the communities here to get CPR and AEDs everywhere. So because of their good efforts, every chance I get to come back and help out, doing what they do, I take.”
Frankel is back at Target USA CUP volunteering with the media team as a photographer for the 14th year.