By Steve Sears
John Stibravy remembers the night. Sort of.
“When you come back from something like this,” he says, “you feel like not all of you came back. Like pieces of your mind and personality didn’t return. I lost 5 months or memories and other chunks randomly.”
On December 27, 2017, while he and his wife, Laura Miceli, were celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary dining out in Atlantic City, Stibravy collapsed dead in a restaurant. “A firefighter – whom I never found – started CPR, and the medics put me on LUCAS (a new automated device that does CPR automatically).” Per Stibravy, the survival rate for an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest victim is 10%. “I probably survived because that firefighter started CPR within 3 minutes. People said I turned gray from the hairline down as the blood drained downward, then dropped onto a dining table dead. No warning. Just dead.” Stibravy was dead for 40 minutes and died three more times in the Atlantic City emergency room. When finally waking, he even saw crocodiles on the ceiling, and asked for a gun to shoot them. “It took two years to get my mind back, and I was in a coma 10 days (he says all the nightmares he had while in his coma are still in his head), and I woke up insane for weeks.”
Stibravy has authored a 2-book set, Aortic Valve Replacement: Through the Dark Curtain, and the latest offering, Sudden Cardiac Arrest: Back from the Dead. He will be signing both at the Book Barn in Denville on September 12. He is also part of a team that is at work on a counseling book that will be available some time in 2021, and he himself is writing a book about the Cedar Lake area in Denville.
Stibravy, 71, remembers nothing of his dinner that evening, nor does he remember going there or to the hospital, or his first rehab. He also had to relearn to walk while in recovery and can barely write with his right arm. “What saved me is that firefighter in the restaurant,” he says. “I never found him, don’t even know what town he’s from, nobody wrote down anything, and the other thing that saved me is not only his CPR, but the ambulance was there in 3 minutes, the ER was a block away, and they put me on LUCAS.”
His reason for writing his books is straightforward. “To get the average person to take a CPR course, and just learn basic CPR,” he says. “Because with cardiac arrest, every minute that passes without somebody trying CPR, your chances of survival go down 10%. Another thing I really hope to do is promote the purchase of these LUCAS devices by small towns. It’s a real lifesaver.”
Stibravy, who has a PhD in Higher Education Administration/English, has taught at United States Air Force (USAF) Academy, West Point Prep, Edison Community College (Ohio), and the Air Force Institute of Technology. He served in the USAF 1972-1992, and has lived in Denville since 1954.
Ironically enough, Stibravy’s wife is also a cardiac arrest survivor. She suffered hers while at St. Clare’s Hospital in Denville during a routine heart catheterization. She was dead 10 minutes and remembers floating around watching the code team work on her. “She woke up in ICU the next day on a ventilator,” Stibravy recalls.
Stibravy says, after an event like the one he and his wife had, you come back different. “You’re very aware life is each heartbeat, very aware that life is very brief. Enjoy life to the fullest. Don’t say, ‘I’ll do it tomorrow,’ because you might not get tomorrow.”