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For the second time, wife's CPR helps bring husband back from brink of death

Barbara Sweda knew her husband Gerald Sweda was having a heart attack.
Barbara Sweda knew her husband Gerald Sweda was having a heart attack.
Published Mar. 13, 2012

ST. PETERSBURG — Barbara Sweda knew something was wrong with her husband Saturday morning.

Gerald Sweda, 69, had just returned to their car from downtown's Saturday market.

Then he went silent, wouldn't answer his wife's questions and started breathing roughly.

A retired nurse who had worked in coronary care, Barbara Sweda, 63, knew she had little time to act.

Her husband was having a heart attack.

This wasn't the first time she had seen that look in her husband's face.

One evening in 2005, Gerald Sweda slumped to the floor of their condo as his wife cleaned up from dinner.

She gave him CPR. He woke up before help arrived. He lived.

Now it was happening again.

The couple had planned to attend a Renaissance festival in Tampa, Barbara Sweda said. But first, Gerald Sweda, a retired public relations man from a manufacturing company, wanted to swing by the market to pick up a loaf of his favorite rye bread.

The errand took only a few minutes as his wife waited in the car. When her husband got back, Barbara Sweda recalled, "I said, 'You don't look good.' He didn't respond."

"I said, 'Do you feel okay?' He still didn't respond to me."

Then he put his head on the seat and started breathing raggedly, almost like snoring.

"I said, 'Oh, I'm in trouble.' "

Barbara Sweda was faced with two tasks of the highest priority: calling 911 and starting CPR.

She whipped out her new iPhone, which she had not yet mastered.

It took her straight to "contacts" — but she couldn't find the keypad.

She sprang out of the car and summoned strangers. A dark-haired man helped her get Gerald Sweda out of the car so that she could perform CPR. A young woman called 911.

Barbara Sweda performed chest compressions on her husband, who had lost his pulse and was not breathing.

Acting Lt. Jon Fair of St. Petersburg Fire Rescue was first on scene. He placed an automated external defibrillator on Gerald Sweda.

Paramedics arrived and administered a shock to his heart. Gerald Sweda regained consciousness and was transported to Bayfront Medical Center. It wasn't long before he was alert and talking.

Again, Gerald Sweda will live.

"This is the first time I've ever seen the same guy go down twice (and recover) in my 33 years," said St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue spokesman Lt. Joel Granata. "I think it's very rare.

"When you don't have a pulse and you are not breathing on your own, you are very close to death."

Barbara Sweda and fire rescue officials said the moral of the story is simple.

"Learn CPR," Barbara Sweda said. "Anybody can do it, and it really does work."

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or