GERMANTOWN - George Liberatore of Germantown walked into Anytime Fitness on Stonewood Drive on Saturday, Feb. 4, as he did three times every week.
He kept pace with his usual routine that morning — warming up on the elliptical machine for 10 minutes and moving to the treadmill for a 30-minute walk — but his heart didn't.
With his 73rd birthday approaching at the end of this month, his doctor said he was healthy as could be with no previous history of health issues. He worked out regularly to keep it that way, but during the nine-minute mark of his warmup, his life changed.
"I thought, 'I’m feeling good; maybe I’ll shoot for a little more time on the elliptical today.' Almost immediately after that thought, a bright, white light came in from the side of my eye, and then another splash of it came in, and the last thing I remember thinking was, ‘I think I better get off of here because something is not quite right,'" Liberatore said. "That’s the last I remember.”
He was later told that he fell off the elliptical, collapsed on the ground and had gone into cardiac arrest.
Menomonee Falls nurse Brittany Sabin was a row in front of him on a machine; she immediately sprang into action when she saw what happened.
"That’s when Brittany took over," Liberatore said. "She got people to move machines so they could lay me on the ground and started chest compressions. I had no pulse or heartbeat for five minutes.”
Without a beat for five minutes, Liberatore beat tremendous odds.
"The percentage of survival when you’ve been gone that long is about 8.5 percent, so it’s quite amazing," Liberatore said. "The next thing I remember is being loaded on the stretcher with the paramedics and then getting in the ambulance with them talking to me while we were on our way to the hospital. They were encouraging me to stay with them, and I think the pulse and heartbeat went out twice on the way to the hospital, too, but it wasn’t as bad; I think they were able to get me back pretty quickly.”
Liberatore was transported to Community Memorial Hospital, where he was stabilized; tests showed his heart was strong, but his heartbeat was irregular, so Liberatore received a pacemaker.
“I’m grateful to be alive, and I wouldn’t be without Brittany," Liberatore said. "I’m so thankful.”
After the pacemaker was put in, surrounded by his family in the recovery room, the first thing Liberatore said to them was this: "We are getting CPR certified as a family; we are going to do that, and we have to do that."
Liberatore commended the Germantown Fire Department for making it a priority to get 10 percent of the Germantown community CPR certified.
In fact, Liberatore's grandson, Jackson, had received training from the fire department at Germantown High School a few weeks before the incident.
“I did talk with the fire department and that goal is solid to get to," Liberatore said. "If we can get to where one in every two people are certified when something like this happens, it would make the outcome so much more positive. It’s really necessary.”
Liberatore and his family thanked the nurse who saved his life at Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center in Milwaukee, where she works as a nurse in the cardiovascular intensive care unit, on Monday, Feb. 20.