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 Sterling Heights residents Michele and Karl De Leeuw hold up a  Survival Coin from the city.

Sterling Heights residents Michele and Karl De Leeuw hold up a Survival Coin from the city.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Survival Coin recipients recall experiences

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published August 9, 2019


STERLING HEIGHTS — Sterling Heights resident Michele De Leeuw will turn 59 years old in December, but this month is a time for celebrating life.

On Aug. 15, she will remember the time she had a heart attack while sitting in a chair at home, leading to her resuscitation by paramedics and a recovery that defied the odds and earned her a Survival Coin from the city of Sterling Heights.

“I have, like, two birthdays now,” she said.

Michele’s husband, Karl De Leeuw, described the events that followed when “she had basically died here at home.” After he dialed 911, dispatchers talked him through the CPR process until the paramedics arrived.

He said the rescuers hospitalized Michele at St. John Macomb Hospital and sent her to the ICU, and six days later the family heard that she only had 5 percent brain function and 25 percent heart function at the time.

The family made the decision to unplug life support, but then something unexpected happened.

“When they pulled the tube out, she started breathing on her own,” Karl said. “And a couple of days later, her eyes opened. And probably a week or two after that, she was sitting up. If you talked to her now, you would never know anything happened.”

Michele said she spent about a month in the hospital after the initial heart attack. Since the cardiac event, she had open heart surgery last October and another surgery this year on a ventral hernia in her chest.

Michele said she doesn’t remember anything from the time of the cardiac event until her last week in the hospital. She also said she didn’t know how dangerous her situation was until she found out from her cardiac doctor. Michele explained that her main arteries were 92%-99% blocked, making her a “walking time bomb.”

“Every step was a step that could’ve killed me,” she said.

She said the experience made her realize all the things she took for granted.

“To be honest, it’s been a year since I’ve been able to do something I’m normally able to do,” she said. “I planted a garden. (It’s) little things you don’t think about: vacuuming, doing laundry, walking to the park.”

On Dec. 4, 2018, Michele  received the 14th Survival Coin issued by the Sterling Heights Fire Department, as well as congratulations from the City Council. Since 2016, the city has given the coins to people who have suffered a cardiac event and survived thanks to the efforts of rescuers and first responders.

Michele said she is grateful for the rescue work the paramedics did and that she wishes she could give them a gift. She also said she cherishes the city’s Survival Coin.

“It really is something that is near and dear to me,” she said.

Karl said he and his wife have since been featured on “NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt,” and in January they did a taping with the “The Dr. Oz Show.”

Latest coin awarded in August
Sterling Heights Assistant Fire Chief Ed Miller announced the recipient of the 17th Survival Coin at the Aug. 6 City Council meeting: Arnold Pollis.

Miller said Pollis’ wife, resident Sandra Pollis, called 911 May 29 and sought medical help for her 58-year-old husband, who had “agonal breathing” and needed CPR. Miller also praised the dispatcher.

“With the help of our dispatcher ... who is here tonight to represent the (Macomb County) Sheriff’s Department, and some prompting,  Mrs. Pollis began CPR, immediately,” he said. “Mrs. Pollis recognized the symptoms and she knew how to do CPR, and she wasn’t afraid to do it. … We don’t get that very often.”

Within three  minutes and 51 seconds, the Fire Department arrived and took over CPR, administered medication and performed defibrillations, which returned “spontaneous circulation,” Miller said. An EKG showed rescuers things that required the hospital’s attention, and they notified personnel there.

“So this 20 minutes of chaos ended up with Mr. Pollis being delivered to the hospital within 33 minutes of the incident being called to 911, and that quick action started with Mrs. Pollis,” Miller said.

Miller said Arnold Pollis showed up at the fire station a week later, adding that “he looked great, felt great, and he looks great today.”

Arnold Pollis said he works in Livonia as a facility maintenance foreman, and he praised the rescuers for their professionalism.

“I work close with our Fire (Department) and our Police Department, and I just again thank you very much,” he said.

Sandra Pollis also spoke and thanked the first responders.

“Your  quick actions saved my husband’s life,” she said. “I have such respect for you.”

Mayor Pro Tem Liz Sierawski congratulated everyone and, as someone with a nursing background, she offered particular praise for Sandra Pollis.

“It is very rare for somebody who has actually taken the time to be trained in CPR,” Sierawski said. “You certainly never expect to use it on your loved ones, but if you need to, it’s the best thing to know. ... You married a good woman there, Mr. Pollis. She got you through this.”

Councilman Henry Yanez, a former firefighter and paramedic, told Arnold Pollis he should slip the Survival Coin underneath his wife’s pillow. He also credited the dispatchers.

“Every successful EMS or 911 emergency call starts with the clear thinking of a really good dispatcher every single time,” he said.