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Notre Dame fan who suffered game day heart attack gets in fighting shape

Quick action by fans helped Leo Staudacher survive to watch final touchdowns from his hospital bed

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- It was called the biggest comeback in Big House history when Leo Staudacher, 71, suffered cardiac arrest at the 2011 University of Michigan-Notre Dame game, and by the fourth quarter was watching the final minutes of the game from his hospital bed.

As a sports writer said back then, luckily for Staudacher, a Notre Dame fan, when someone asks “Is there a doctor in the Big House?,” folks spring into action like a two-minute offense.  

Two years later, Staudacher is 25 pounds lighter, more devoted to healthy habits and no longer considers U-M a rival – not even Saturday when the Wolverines take on the Irish at 8 p.m.

“I’ve kept my promise too and I’ve never pulled against University of Michigan,” says Staudacher. “I owe so much to the U of M. Notre Dame is in my DNA, but Michigan is in my heart.”

Shortly into the second quarter, Staudacher — who said he’d never had any signs of heart issues — started feeling discomfort.

“It felt like really bad heartburn and it was screwing its way through me,” he told a local newspaper. “I thought, ‘Man, I shouldn’t have eaten that brat.’

“But then I got really tired and my arms started feeling like cement and I thought ‘This sounds an awful lot like a heart attack, but it can’t be.’ And that’s the last thing I remember.”

Staudacher was having a heart attack. Marvin Sonne, a dentist from Trenton and a U-M grad, was the first to respond, immediately performing CPR.  Jan Tardiff, a nursing supervisor at Bay Regional Medical Center, came rushing from a few rows away.

An HVA team and U-M emergency medicine physicians on duty at the stadium helped stabilize Staudacher for transport to the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center, using a defibrillator three times to shock his heart into a normal rhythm.

Once at the Cardiovascular Center, interventional cardiologist Stanley J. Chetcuti, M.D., and a catheterization team opened Staudacher’s blocked artery with emergency angioplasty. From his hospital bed, Staudacher was able to watch the final touchdowns that led to a U-M win.

Many well-wishers followed Staudacher's story including U-M head football coach Brady Hoke who sent a note to Staudacher’s Bay City area home. Staudacher won’t make it to Ann Arbor for this year’s game but ironically Chetcuti is on-call at the Cardiovascular Center.

“I still come down to see Dr. Chetcuti once a year (for a check-up),” says Staudacher. “I tell him that heart attack was the best thing that’s happened. I walk a half marathon a week, 13 miles, and I’ve lost 25 pounds. I’m feeling great.”

What should you do if you suspect a heart attack?

Some heart attacks are sudden and intense. But most start slowly, with mild pain and discomfort. If you’re having heart attack symptoms, get help right away.

  • Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back.
  • Feeling weak, light-headed, or faint.
  • Chest pain or discomfort.
  • Pain or discomfort in arms or shoulder.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • If you think that you or someone you know is having a heart attack, call 9–1–1 immediately

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