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Jim Kaspersak of Buffalo was heading for the 18th green at Fox Valley Country Club on Oct. 13, 1998, when he felt the big one coming.

Since his open-heart surgery 19 years earlier, he had suffered a heart attack in 1991 and was carrying his nitroglycerine tablets.

"I was reaching for my pills," Kaspersak, 62, said Tuesday evening during Operation Heartbeat's recognition night at the Rich Renaissance Niagara. "And as I was walking, I fell to the ground and was dead. Completely dead. I had sudden death syndrome."

None of the 100 or more people in the Rich atrium would have challenged his words, for Kaspersak spoke with the authority of a survivor.

After giving credit to Lancaster town police officers who quickly arrived, Kaspersak delivered his clincher.

"The best part of the whole thing was that they had the most important piece of equipment -- a defibrillator," he said. "I'm very happy to hear that the Erie County executive is going to do something with these defibrillators. Get them and use them!"

Colden Town Supervisor Marilynn Calhoun said the town bought one of the $2,000 devices for the Colden Fire Company and paid half the cost of another one it shares with the Aurora Colden Fire Company.

"These machines are easy to use," she said. "Even I have learned how to use it."

Kristy Barber of Holland was already a pioneer with Operation Heartbeat when her father, David Clemons, suffered a heart attack on June 26, 1997, at age 46. She and her mother were home with him at the time.

"We put him in the car before the ambulance came," she recalled. But by the time they met the Rural/Metro ambulance, Clemons was about to suffer cardiac arrest, she said.

Fortunately, paramedic Eric Conley was working in the East Aurora ambulance and put Clemons on advanced life support. Conley was among several rescuers honored for their work.

"I feel like I'm a very small part in a very long chain that works through teamwork," Conley said.
"I'm glad it was a positive outcome."

"It woke me up," Clemons said of his heart attack. "I felt like an elephant was on my chest. A lot of it I don't remember."

The retired Chevrolet plant worker offered other men this advice: "When the wife tells you to go in for a checkup, go in! Don't take a chance."

Operation Heartbeat is an initiative of the American Heart Association for training 50 percent of the public in CPR. It also works through a nonprofit group to get discounts on automated external defibrillators, known as AEDs.

"Since Dad's heart attack," Barber said, "we've started Heartsafe 2001, to make AEDs available to communities at 50 percent off. And we're doing a mass CPR training on Saturday at McKinley Mall, for free to anyone who comes."

Robert Hooper of Buffalo survived Vietnam, Grenada and the Persian Gulf War with the U.S. Navy, but it was his survival of a heart attack on Oct. 11 that brought him to the Rich atrium.

"You wonder if you're going to survive (in a combat zone), because you're in harm's way," he said, "but you can die at home in seconds."

Hooper, 46, was in his home on Crystal Avenue, near Hopkins Street, when his heart attack came without warning. His sister, Diane Hassette, called 911.

"He was down and had no pulse and wasn't breathing," said Lt. Joseph Scanlon of Engine 4, from Hollywood Avenue and Abbott Road. Firefighters began administering CPR but weren't getting a response. After the second electrical shock from the defibrillator, Hooper's heart started beating again. Scanlon gave special credit to Firefighter Jim Gatta and others for saving Hooper's life.

Jeffrey C. Mendola, marketing manager of Rural/Metro Medical Services and chairman of Operation Heartbeat, said free CPR training will be given in the Agri-Center of the Erie County Fairgrounds on April 28 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. To register, call 564-1100.

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