Kadner: ‘Day I died happiest of my life’
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org November 16, 2012 4:46PM
Gerald "Jack" Boekeloo, center, kisses his Cardiologist, Geetha Bhat, at Advocate Christ Medical Center during a news conference at the hospital in Oak Lawn, IL on Tuesday, July 17, 2012. Thomas Levin, left, a Interventional Cardiologist at the hospital looks on at left. Boekeloo's life was saved after an auto accident when a nurse from the hospital stopped to help him. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media .
Updated: December 19, 2012 1:16PM
“I died twice in one day. You take the best day you ever had and multiply it a million times, that’s how good that day was for me.”
On Nov. 19, 2011, Gerald “Jack” Boekeloo, now 69, was driving to Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn when he had a heart attack.
“I don’t really remember much, except one minute I was driving and the next the paramedics were there putting me in an ambulance,” he said. “I guess I hit another car after I passed out.”
Dawn Bausone-Gazda had spent the previous night at the bedside of her ailing mother, who was a patient at Christ.
She was heading home and was only a few blocks from the hospital, at 95th Street and Cicero Avenue, when “I saw people pulling a man out of a car that had been in an accident.”
That man was Boekeloo.
“I just stopped my car and ran over to see if I could help,” said Bausone-Gazda, a registered nurse who has worked at Christ for 25 years.
Did she think about potential lawsuits if something went wrong?
“No. I just saw someone who looked like they were in trouble and stopped to see if I could help.”
The man lying on the street wasn’t breathing. She checked Boekeloo’s pulse and couldn’t find any.
“He was obviously in cardiac arrest,” Bausone-Gazda concluded.
She began performing CPR until Oak Lawn paramedics arrived on the scene.
And then ...
“I just got up, walked back to my car and drove home,” she said. “I wasn’t needed there any more. I needed to get home to my children.”
Boekeloo said he was conscious when the ambulance arrived, but suffered a second heart attack at the hospital.
“The doctor who saw me in the emergency room said he thought I was as good as dead. He would later tell me I was a very lucky man because most people who survive something like this have some long-term problems, paralysis or speech problems, but I didn’t,” he said.
I asked Boekeloo if he had seen any strange visions because many people who suffer near-death experiences report seeing loved ones who have passed away and bright lights.
“I really can’t explain it, but it was like a nightmare,” he said. “It was like I was in a tunnel and things were coming at me, sort of like asteroids, just objects, and I kept dodging out of the way. I didn’t see any lights.”
Boekeloo spent three months in the hospital recovering and during that time found out about a woman who had come to his rescue and saved his life.
“I kept telling everyone that when I get out of the hospital I’m going to find out who that person was and thank her,” he said.
One day, a nurse came by his room to check his IV bag.
“The patient started telling me this story about how he had a heart attack and been in an accident and someone had saved his life and how lucky he was,” recalled Bausone-Gazda.
“That’s when I realized he must have been the man from the car accident that I resuscitated, but I didn’t say anything to him. I didn’t want to get him all excited and compromise his treatment.”
She wasn’t even supposed to be in Boekeloo’s room that day. She was filling in for another nurse.
Bausone-Gazda said she had never inquired about the man’s identity or whether he had lived or died.
“When you’ve been a nurse as long as I have, you just do your job and hope the other people later do the same,” she said.
“I’ve dealt with a lot of life-and-death situations in my years as a nurse.”
As she stepped outside Boekeloo’s room she ran into a co-worker and told her the strangest thing had just happened: She had just run into the man she had resuscitated months earlier at an accident scene.
That co-worker nominated Bausone-Gazda for the hospital’s Mission, Values and Philosophy Award.
And in July, at that award presentation, Boekeloo finally met the woman who saved his life.
“She’s my angel,” he said. “She’s the most humble, kindest person you could ever meet.
“She didn’t even want that award.”
“They said it was good publicity for the hospital,” said Bausone-Gazda, who admitted she felt sheepish about accepting an award for something nurses and doctors do every day.
“One of the best things about it was my mother was there and, although I told her I saved lives at work, I think seeing Jack there and hearing what people said made her very proud. That was very nice.”
At the ceremony, Boekeloo publicly thanked the nurse for saving his life, but that was just the beginning of their relationship.
When Bausone-Gazda’s mother fell ill again, Boekeloo made it a point to stop by her room and talk to her on a regular basis.
“I always told her what a wonderful daughter she raised because she saved my life,” Boekeloo said.
Bausone-Gazda and Boekeloo, who never married and has no children, began to have an occasional dinner together.
She invited him home to meet her husband and twin 8-year-old children.
And when her mother died, she called Boekeloo to invite him to the wake.
“It’s going to be a year (on Monday) that this angel came into my life,” Boekeloo said, “and I just wanted to thank her publicly once again.
“I’m so grateful.
“The day I died turned out to be the happiest day of my life because I met Dawn,” he said with a laugh.
“That day actually made my life. I can honestly say that I can die a happy man now.”