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Steve Stark, Fargo, Published June 29 2013

Commentary: Saturday, when I died

Around 7 p.m. Saturday, June 22, after getting off the stage with my fellow “Dakota Air: The Radio Show” performers I felt a wave of dizziness descend over my body. We were performing on the outdoor stage at Ashley, N.D.’s, 125th anniversary celebration.

I started to fall and reached out to hold a tent stake rope. That’s all I remember because my heart had stopped, which, I discovered, can affect one’s memory.

My friends, show producer Kate Henne and fellow performer Vicki Melchior, were among many who sprang to action after I collapsed on myself like a dropped marionette. Kate on her phone directed traffic to 911 and others, and later alerted my family in Fargo.

Vicki, on her knees on the blacktop, found the strength to unfold my legs trapped under my immobile torso. I’ve been told many came running at a public request for help. Vicki held me in her arms as my life drained away – no heartbeat, no pulse, no oxygen and no last wisecrack from my lips. I died in her arms.

Twelve minutes of CPR and two defibrillator jolts from the prompt Ashley emergency responders passed. My life button kicked back into operating mode, my purple countenance was restored back to my Scandinavian ancestry’s pasty off-white.

As Billy Crystal’s character Miracle Max said in the movie “The Princess Bride,” “He was only mostly dead!” (But, dead just the same). I learned there’s a name and acronym for my event: Sudden Cardiac Death, or SCD.

Long story short: I was whisked to the modest Ashley Medical Center, where I was administered to by a gentle team of professionals who ably stabilized me and – here’s the frosting on that cake – held my hand. That single action of intimate human contact was one of the most significant and restorative gestures of my life. Those gals will be in my thoughts forever.

Airlifted to Fargo by an expert helicopter team from Bismarck, we made the journey home to Sanford Health in Fargo, dodging thunderstorms that blanketed the valley that night. Rats, my first helicopter ride and it was spent flat on my back, not able to look out a window.

A superb emergency cardiac team went to work over the next couple of days – from my surgeon Dr. Pierce (“M*A*S*H” fans will appreciate the parallel) to the finest nurses a patient could ever be blessed to have, most notably Tiffany, Ashley, Tasha, Eric and Kelly.

I know I was the focus of many positive hopes, thoughts and more than a couple of prayer chains. I’ve learned since, that I beat astronomical odds of recovery after such a long time under CPR.

I was met by my loving and supportive family (including our 11-week-old grandson) and two of our dearest friends as I was wheeled out of the Sanford emergency room. I’m now at home, sore but with gratitude for every act of human kindness, concern and expertise that carried me back home from the other side. I’m sporting a newly installed pacemaker/

defibrillator in my chest, and more awed than ever at technology and science.

Life is a wonderful, inspiring and challenging blessing. And for the existence of all the North Dakotans and others around me, known and unknown, who helped restore my life, you will always be heroes and angels in my mind, the essence of all that is good in our country, and an inspiration in my newly monitored heart.

I knew that before the Saturday I died, but now I understand it.


Stark performs historical programs as Theodore Roosevelt, draws editorial cartoons for The Forum, teaches, and writes music and sketches for Prairie Public’s “Dakota Air: The Radio Show.” Email sstark@cableone.net