The day began with a festive feel.
Christine O’Connor, her husband Paul and their son Sean, of Lutz, had gone to an 80th birthday party for Christine’s mom.
Great care had been taken to ensure that Connie Kubiak’s milestone celebration on July 26 would be special.
A dozen people — mostly immediate family — were at the birthday gathering at Connie and Carl Kubiak’s home, in Tampa’s Dana Shores.
The house was decked out with 80th birthday balloons, Christine and her sister-in-law Kelly Kubiak had catered the meal, and there were special cupcakes, too.
Christine had spent hours painstakingly putting together a power point presentation — showcasing her mom’s life —timed to a soundtrack of Jimmy Buffet tunes.
“That was really moving for my mom,” Christine said.
It had been a great day, and the party was wrapping up — with immediate family members saying their goodbyes.
Christine was chatting with her brother, Chuck Kubiak, when suddenly he said he felt lightheaded, and he fell into a recliner.
She thought he’d passed out. She tried to get a response, but couldn’t stir him.
“Then, all of a sudden, his color changed. I turned to Paul and I said, ‘He is not breathing.’”
When Paul heard that, he said, “I said to myself, ‘It’s go time.’
“I yelled over to my niece (Brooke Kubiak) to call 911,” Paul said.
He asked his nephew, Brian Kubiak, to go get his keychain. That’s where Paul always keeps a CPR face shield.
“I went to the other side of Chuck,” Paul said. ““I checked his carotid (artery) for a pulse. No pulse.”
Paul, Christine and her brother Craig Kubiak laid Chuck out on the floor.
“I started CPR on him, between CPR compressions and mouth-to-mouth, went back and forth about three times,” Paul said.
As he was doing mouth-to-mouth, he turned Chuck’s head and could hear gurgling.
“He started aspirating a little bit,” Paul said.
“I just flipped him up on the side. He was breathing, but it was very labored,” Paul said.
“Probably the whole scenario was around 5 minutes or so, 5-7 minutes,” Paul added, referring to when he began CPR and when emergency responders arrived.
Chuck was transported to St. Joseph’s Hospital’s main campus in Tampa, where he received care and a defibrillator was installed in his chest. He was discharged nearly a week later.
Since then, Chuck has had visits with his cardiologist and had a return trip to the hospital because of blood clots. He remains on medication and said his prognosis is good.
Paul, who is an Eagle Scout, said his Scout training prepared him to do what needed to be done.
He recently received a Medal of Merit award from Boy Scouts of America.
“When it happens, it happens really, really quickly. You have to be prepared for it,” Paul said, in a video taken during the medal presentation in a Lutz Troop 12 ceremony.
“As that gurney went out the front door, he was breathing. I did my job,” Paul said.
“It’s an honor, but then again, I’m an Eagle Scout. I was doing what I was trained to do,” Paul added, after receiving the award from Troop 12 Scoutmaster Paul Evans.
Paul and Christine are both leaders in Troop 12 and their son, Sean, is a Life Scout — preparing to seek the rank of Eagle Scout — in the same troop.
Christine’s family is both deeply impressed and enormously grateful for Paul’s actions.
“It was very surreal, very surreal,” Christine said.
Chuck, who lives in Wesley Chapel, was at the party with his 20-year-old twins, Spencer and Mackenzie. His wife, Lavon, couldn’t attend because the family’s dog was not doing well.
Chuck knows how lucky he is to be alive.
“I had what’s called a sudden cardiac arrest. It’s 95% fatal, from what I understand,” he said.
“I was fortunate to be in the right place, at the right time, when it happened, that’s for sure,” Chuck added, because Paul was there and knew what to do.
“It’s important that people not only know CPR, but that they do it correctly, because it makes a big difference, I think, in the outcome,” said Chuck, who learned his cardiac arrest was caused by an enlarged heart, possibly the result of a virus.
In the right place, at the right time
After nearly dying, Chuck said, he’s more aware of the fragile nature of life.
“It just shows you how quick life can come and go,” Chuck said. “Once I went down, it was like the off-switch was hit.”
The experience has made him reflect about how he spends time.
“Life goes by so fast — try to slow down a little,” Chuck said, noting that his brush with death has served to remind him “not be so driven to just work, work, work.”
Christine said she’s happy that they were still at the party when Chuck needed help.
“Why did it happen that way? There’s a reason for everything.
“We could have been gone. We typically leave early on Sunday nights. And we could have left already. Or, Chuck could have been in the car with the kids.
“I’m just grateful that everybody was in the right place at the right moment, and my brother is here with us today,” Christine said.
For his part, Paul hopes more people will receive training to become certified in CPR.
“I’ve been through CPR training a number of times,” Paul said.
“Now, I’m a big proponent for the troop. Even the folks that I work with.
“It can really hit close to home,” Paul said.
Published February 17, 2021