Red Cross Heroes: Medical

MUHLENBERG TWP., Pa. - Training for a marathon can be tough, even grueling, but John Bonanno seemed to be enjoying it. At 79, he was training for his first long race.

"I wanted to run a marathon, wanted to get that done before I closed my eyes here, you know, and I was ready," Bonanno said, adding that he was up to 20 miles and could have kept going,  

He went out for a training run on June 19, Father's Day.

"It was hot and humid that day," Bonanno recalled. "I remember, I didn't take any water before I went out, but I started running."

He was about 20 minutes in on his regular route along River Road in Muhlenberg Township.

"All of a sudden, it just came upon me," Bonanno said. "I got so disorientated and I felt dizzy and weak, and I knew I was starting to pass out. I remember blacking out and going down, and that's the last I remember."

Renee George, who normally doesn't drive home by way of River Road, did so that night, and she saw a couple she knew waving at her to pull over. They had seen Bonanno go down.

"You could see him. He was kinda laying on the side of the road," George remembered.

He wasn't breathing and had no pulse.

"He looked frail," she said.

Renee, a trained EMT, began CPR.

"I didn't know if he was going to make it," she said. "I didn't know if he was going to make it."

Meanwhile, Muhlenberg Township police Ofc. Erik Schwendeman got the call to respond.

"From the moment that I started getting close, I had people that were on the side of the road that were trying to wave me in," Schwendeman said. "They were just screaming, 'Go down that way. Go down that way."

He had an AED in his patrol car and put the pads on Bonanno's chest. He shocked him twice, but Bonanno didn't respond.

Paramedic Chad Schaner and EMT Mike Texter were pulling up. They continued CPR, started advanced life support, gave him medicine and started breathing for him. The signs weren't good.

"Every second you are without oxygen supply to your brain or blood supply to your brain, it's gonna be worse outcome for you the longer you are without it." Texter said.

"We weren't sure that he was going to come back," Schaner added. "He hadn't been breathing for awhile."

George drove the ambulance so Schaner and Texter could stay in the back. While they worked on Bonanno, Schwendeman tried to figure out who he was. Bonanno had no wallet on him when he went out for a run. He was going into the hospital as a John Doe. 

Later that night, they would make the connection, and miraculously, on the way to the hospital, Bonanno's pulse came back.

"I owe my life to them people," he said. "Yeah, there's no other way. They are all my guardian angels and they are here on Earth. Somebody up there likes me."

"He's very grateful," George said. "Very grateful."

"I'm just glad that it worked out the way that it did and that John is still here," Schwendeman said.

"When I was in the hospital rehab, I would lay there and think how fortunate that I was. I mean, it can happen so quick," Bonanno said. "In a heartbeat, it's all over. and how lucky I am to be here today."

His sneakers? They're for walking now, good rehab for the heart. Bonanno's spirit is as strong as ever, even without the marathon.

"That's faith," he said. "Like I said before, I've been blessed. I have a lot of faith and a lot more now. A lot more."

George, Schwendeman, Shaner and Texter will be recognized Thursday as American Red Cross medical heroes during the annual Berks County Heroes breakfast on Thursday at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Wyomissing. You can buy tickets online or by calling the Red Cross in Reading at 610-375-4383.

Other heroes who will be honored at the breakfast are in the categories of law enforcement, fire, 911 dispatch, military, adult good Samaritan, youth good Samaritan, animal rescue, and community impact.

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