'I wake up grateful every day,' Pittsburgh worker tells first responders who saved his life

The city council's sergeant at arms officer performed CPR until paramedics arrived


Megan Guza
The Tribune-Review

PITTSBURGH — In an emotional reunion in the City-County Building in Downtown Pittsburgh on Tuesday, city employee Matthew Meisenhelter got to meet the colleagues who saved his life — some of whom, up until then, he didn't know played a role in his survival.

"It's something I've been hoping to do," Meisenhelter said of meeting the police, paramedics, firefighters and others who helped keep him alive.

First responders had to use an automated external defibrillator on city employee Matthew Meisenhelter, and paramedics had to shock him again once they arrived.
First responders had to use an automated external defibrillator on city employee Matthew Meisenhelter, and paramedics had to shock him again once they arrived. (Image/Pittsburgh EMS)

Meisenhelter, 55, of the city's Brookline neighborhood, had been working May 28 — the day before the long Memorial Day weekend — when colleagues in the credit union on the second floor convinced him to call an ambulance for the chest pain he was experiencing. Soon after, a second call came reporting that Meisenhelter had collapsed.

Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich was in the building that day. He noted that between the pandemic and the upcoming holiday weekend, "it was almost a ghost town here at the City-County Building."

He responded to the call for help, as did security staff and the city council Sergeant at Arms Officer John Svitek, who performed CPR until medics arrived.

"I did not think that you were going to survive," Hissrich told Meisenhelter in the short ceremony. He presented Meisenhelter with a public safety coin.

"He looks a lot better than he did on May 28 just before 10 a.m.," Hissrich said.

First responders had to use an automated external defibrillator on Meisenhelter, and paramedics had to shock him again once they arrived.

Meisenhelter said he's certain he wouldn't be alive were it not for the first responders and colleagues in the City-County Building who came to his aid that day.

"There's no way I can express how glad I am to be here today," said Meisenhelter, who returned to work in August after nearly three months of convalescence. "I wake up grateful every day that I'm here and that I can continue being here."

Meisenhelter teared up as he tried to express his gratitude. He embraced Svitek, the officer who kept him alive until advanced life support equipment arrived.

"It's too big to just say, 'Thank you,'" said Meisenhelter, who noted he's lost close to 50 pounds in order to live healthier during his second chance at life. "There's no way I can ever say that enough. You're part of how I'm here today."

Svitek said he did what he was trained to do.

"I can say with great confidence that any officer that works for this department would have done (what I did)," he said.

Mayor Bill Peduto commended the police, fire and EMS departments that "made sure we weren't going to lose you that day."

Meisenhelter said he met and thanked people on Tuesday that he had no idea had a hand in his rescue.

"I'm thrilled I met the people who were instrumental in allowing me to be here today," he said.

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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