Kettering city manager finally describes near-death event, and how EMS saved him

Schwieterman had “major cardiac event” while playing golf in 2019, spent 46 days in hospitals, and was brought back

DAYTON — Mark Schwieterman has ultimately been in charge of Kettering’s emergency medical services since 2006. But this week the longtime city manager revealed publicly for the first time how EMS crews and other medical personnel saved his life.

Schwieterman said he collapsed Dec. 1, 2019 while playing golf with a friend, a trained safety worker who happened to be steps away. That friend asked to remain unidentified.

“I suffered a major cardiac event. I was gone,” said the University of Dayton grad not known for hyperbole. “My friend brought me back. EMS providers brought me back. The hospital staff brought me back.”

Schwieterman’s first public comments about his health ordeal — what he said became known in private circles as “an incident” — were made at the Greater Miami Valley Emergency Medical Services Council’s 50th anniversary event.

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

The council includes about a dozen southwest Ohio counties, Butler, Clark, Champaign, Greene, Miami, Montgomery, Preble and Warren among them.

“This council and its members saved my life,” Schwieterman said. “I’m grateful for that every minute.”

The regional group “is a vital part of (the) success” of operations for area EMS, which has an “impact on so many people every day,” the 57-year-old said.

“My story is not unique. It is not uncommon,” Schwieterman added. “EMS providers respond every day to everyone.”

Schwieterman said he lost all memory of the 30 days before the collapse and the three weeks or so after it. “But we spent a lot of time in (my) inner sanctum rehashing what took place.”

‘Strokes of luck’

He shared with the audience several “strokes of luck” that December day, many of them combining to keep him alive. They included:

• Being with a friend who is “well-trained at saving lives.”

• His playing partner driving and picking up Schwieterman.

• Schwieterman’s friend being within feet of him, being able to hear — but not see — him before “he turned to find me face down on the ground.”

• His playing partner called 9-1-1, started CPR and “flagged down help, all in a matter of seconds.”

• The friend’s 9-1-1 cell phone call going to Riverside, while the golf course staff’s 9-1-1 landline call went to Beavercreek, prompting both jurisdictions to respond.

Schwieterman said he spent 46 days in hospitals, being taken by helicopter to the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center after four days at Soin Medical Center in Beavercreek. For about three weeks, he was on a ventilator.

“My lungs were shot. My kidneys were shot,” Schwieterman said. “Hoses were everywhere and my heart was, frankly, the least of my worries.”

Schwieterman recovered for more than four months before returning to work in April 2020, just weeks after the COVID-19 pandemic hit worldwide.

Worst day, best day

What Schwieterman called “probably the worst day of my life, which turned out to be the best day of my life” started with errant shots off the first tee that put the playing partners within feet of each other.

“Had he been 50 yards or 100 yards away from me — which he would have been if we hit decent drives — it would have been too late and the outcome would have been different,” Schwieterman said.

That day, he said with his eyes tearing up, Riverside Fire Department’s Paula Balcom played a key role in his rescue. Schwieterman said he can’t recall the 2019 encounter and “didn’t actually meet her for probably 60 days later.”

A Riverside ambulance crew used a Beavercreek chest compression machine on the way to Soin, he said.

“The service was timely, swift, efficient and — most importantly — effective,” Schwieterman said, noting that he was later told fewer than 10% who suffer such episodes outside of medical facilities survive.

“The hospitals did a great job. And God was awesome, no doubt,” he said. “But without my friend, without Riverside and without Beavercreek (EMS), the ending to this story would have been much different.”

Balcom called the response an example of the “collaboration from the first responders to the EMS coordinators to the physicians — to every player within the system that makes a difference in the outcome.”

Those actions are often “efforts across departments and county lines,” she said.

The regional council coordinates efforts of fire/EMS/private ambulance service “pre-hospital care providers, hospital emergency department, staff and consumers for pre-hospital medical care” for sudden illness or injury victims, according to its website.

‘Impeccably trained heroes’

Schwieterman said his playing partner later drove to the city manager’s home, relaying to his wife — also a friend — the news about her husband.

“I can’t imagine how difficult it was … to tell my wife,” Schwieterman said. “I know that she is grateful for the way he handled that situation, a way that he had been trained to do so.”

The next day, at a previously planned joint meeting, officials in the Montgomery County suburbs talked privately with hushed concern about the condition of a colleague for whom they’ve gained a deep respect through the years.

That Tuesday night, Kettering City Council appointed Assistant City Manager Steve Bergstresser acting city manager until further notice.

At the time, Kettering officials said only that Schwieterman experienced “a recent medical condition” and further details were not released publicly.

Schwieterman has announced he will step down as Kettering’s top administrator when his contract expires in late December, ending a 33-year career with the city.

“I’m still here because of the impeccably trained heroes who came to my rescue,” he told the EMS council. “My story is not extraordinary because of who I am or what I do for a living. It is extraordinary because of who you are.”

Local officials and hospitals must continue “to make sure that we do not lose focus on what is important,” Schwieterman said. “We must provide (EMS) to our community and in an exceptional way. Lives depend on it. Frankly, mine did.”

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