One good deed, quickly repaid with another

Two motorists saved the life of a good Samaritan who had moments earlier helped them.

Sara Berg of Eau Claire.

Call it a twist of fate.

Victor Giesbrecht, 61, of Winnipeg, stopped his pickup along an interstate highway in western Wisconsin to help two stranded women change a flat tire. Minutes later, his life was in their hands.

Sara Berg, of Eau Claire, Wis., and her cousin, Lisa Meier, were headed home Saturday night on Interstate 94 when they "heard an awful noise." They were somewhere between Menomonie and Eau Claire when they pulled to the side of the road with a flat tire -- something neither knew how to fix. Meier's husband was on his way to help when Giesbrecht, who was driving by with his wife, Ann, showed up and asked whether they needed help.

"We were so grateful," Berg said. "Nowadays, nobody ever really stops to offer their help. It's kind of scary sometimes, because you really don't know what you're getting into."

Giesbrecht is the type who always wants to stop to help a stranded motorist, his wife said. "He's the type of person who gives you 100 percent and worries about himself later," she said.

When Giesbrecht finished, Berg thanked him and they shook hands. Berg recalled Giesbrecht's farewell words to her: "Someone up above put me in the right place at the right time.'"

And then they parted. Giesbrecht and his wife pulled back onto the interstate. Seconds later, Berg followed.

Less than a quarter mile down the road, Berg noticed Giesbrecht's red truck pulled over. She passed it and then pulled over herself, figuring the couple may have forgotten something.

No sooner had she gotten out of her car when she saw Giesbrecht's wife waving frantically at passing motorists.

When she saw Berg, she called out: "I think he's having a heart attack."

Berg, a certified nursing assistant trained in CPR, jumped into the truck. Giesbrecht had no pulse and wasn't breathing. Berg began chest compressions. Meier called 911.

Emergency personnel arrived in about five minutes, "but it always feels like forever at a time like that," Berg said.

Wisconsin state trooper Kate Sampson arrived first, and gave mouth-to-mouth resuscitation while Berg continued the chest compressions. When two Dunn County sheriff's deputies arrived, they helped move Giesbrecht out of the truck and to the shoulder, using the vehicle as a buffer from passing traffic. Sampson, along with Meier's husband, who had just arrived, and the deputy resumed CPR while the second deputy used an automated external defibrillator to deliver shocks to his heart.

One of the lucky ones

More than 400,000 people die in the United States each year from cardiac arrest, said Dr. Regis Fernandes, a cardiologist with Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire. The survival rate for someone who suffers a cardiac arrest out of the hospital ranges from only 1 to 6 percent, he said.

"Not performing CPR contributes to poor outcomes," he said.

And Giesbrecht, who had stopped to do a good deed along a stretch of interstate, was one of the lucky ones.

"It was a nice twist of fate," said Fernandes, who is treating Giesbrecht at the Eau Claire hospital. "We know for sure that the CPR the woman did increased his chances for survival."

Berg pointed out that it was a team effort by several people.

The last few days have been a bit emotional for her and her cousin.

"We both have felt kind of guilty that having helped us caused his health issue," Berg said. "But people keep telling us that maybe it put us in the right place at the right time when he was going to need help."

Ann Giesbrecht, who was also part of her husband's good luck when she guided their vehicle to the shoulder during his heart attack, is grateful. According to a statement issued by Mayo Clinic Health System, she talked to Berg on Sunday and told her, "You actually saved his life."

mlsmith@startribune.com • 612-673-4788 pwalsh@startribune.com • 612-673-4482

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