Heart attack comes as shock to healthy 36-year-old from DuluthChristmas isn’t until next week, but Leslie Bucar has all the present she needs already. “I told him he doesn’t have to get me a Christmas present this year,” she said of her husband, Frank Bucar. “I already got my Christmas present. I got him back.”
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
Christmas isn’t until next week, but Leslie Bucar has all the present she needs already.
“I told him he doesn’t have to get me a Christmas present this year,” she said of her husband, Frank Bucar. “I already got my Christmas present. I got him back.”
Frank Bucar was playing basketball with his friends at the Stowe Elementary School on Dec. 10, as he had been doing on Monday evenings for nearly 20 years.
As his longtime friend, Tom Rzatkowski of Hermantown, watched from the side, Bucar slowly slumped to the floor. Rzatkowski said he thought his buddy was kidding at first. Another player took a look at Bucar and shouted for someone to call 911.
Bucar, 36 and healthy, a nonsmoker and nondrinker, with no family history of heart problems, had gone into cardiac arrest.
“I’m running over to him. He’s struggling breathing,” Rzatkowski recounted. “I started CPR on him.”
Rzatkowski hadn’t been trained in CPR, he said on Friday, but figured trying to do something was better than doing nothing. After a few moments, another one of the hoops regulars, Steve Dudek, took over.
Dudek, who works in an assisted-living facility, was recertified in CPR earlier this year, Leslie Bucar said.
“He told me I wasn’t doing it quite right,” Rzatkowski said.
Dudek brought Bucar back, lost him, and brought him back again. Bucar’s heartbeat still was weak when paramedics arrived, and they applied defibrillation twice.
Bucar was rushed to St. Luke’s hospital, where he started to regain consciousness the next day.
By the time he was fully alert on Dec. 12, St. Luke’s cardiologists had determined there was nothing physically wrong with Bucar’s heart. Instead, they told the Bucars, his heart had some sort of electrical problem. On that Wednesday, they implanted an automatic internal defibrillator — an AID — in his chest. If his heart goes into arrhythmia again, the AID will shock his heart and keep it beating.
Bucar’s chest still is very sore from the beating his friends gave him while they were saving his life. His left arm is in a sling to keep the left side of his upper body stable while he adjusts to the defibrillator, which he’ll have for the rest of his life.
Outside of that, though, Bucar is suffering no ill effects from his near-death experience. He was sent home from the hospital on Dec. 13, the day after the defibrillator was implanted, and is recuperating in the family’s Duluth Heights home.
“They said since Steve did the CPR so quickly and so correctly that he doesn’t have any heart damage, physical heart damage, and he doesn’t have any brain issues,” Leslie Bucar said. “He was able to get oxygen quickly enough.”
Leslie Bucar was home with the couple’s daughters, ages 4 and 2, when a shaken Rzatkowski called her on the evening of the emergency.
“I just sat on the couch and just cried,” she said. “My two girls were just staring at me, like, ‘What is going on, Mom?’ What do you tell them?”
She never imagined her husband could have heart problems at such a young age, said Leslie Bucar, who also is 36 and is three months pregnant. Frank Bucar, a traffic management specialist for the Minnesota Air National Guard, had passed the unit’s annual physical fitness test with a rating of more than 90 percent, which is considered excellent.
“I always thought that it was going to be older people, or people who smoke or who are heavy,” she said.
Realizing it could happen to anyone at any time has made Leslie Bucar evangelical about getting CPR training. She and many of their friends are signing up for training in Frank’s honor, she said. Rzatkowski said he’ll get the training.
The Bucars are an active couple. Each has been named a News Tribune “20 Under 40” honoree, Leslie in 2007 and Frank this year. She is taking a few years off from her career as a science teacher while the children are small. She still teaches in a science camp project called Mahnomen, which pairs American Indian students with scientists in a study of wild rice.
In addition to his Air National Guard duties, Frank Bucar has coached basketball, appeared in local theater productions and is a musician.
Bucar described the change in his perspective.
“For me, being a father of two and one on the way, I just have to — if today is the last day that you might see them, make sure you give them hugs and kisses at night or in the morning before I go to work,” he said.
But one thing is bugging him.
“When I finally came to … my first question I asked one of the guys was, ‘Who won the basketball game?’” he related.
“Their response was, ‘We all stopped because of what happened.’”
Added Leslie Bucar: “And he said, ‘Well I’m disappointed in you. You should have pushed me over to the side and kept going.’”