By Ben Tinsley
RICHARDSON — Dallas attorney Mark Stromberg beat astoundingly — frighteningly — narrow odds when he survived a recent heart attack that came on as he prepared to play in a Mother’s Day 2018 soccer game.
Stromberg, 57, said he owes his life to teammate Brooks Alkek, who performed extensive cardiopulmonary resuscitation on him when Stromberg went into full cardiac arrest on the field of this 9 p.m. game at Richardson’s Breckinridge Park.
“I was told I was lost several times,” Stromberg said. “I was pretty lucky.”
Alkek’s quick response to Stromberg’s heart attack allowed him to survive the eight minutes it took a delayed ambulance to arrive at the field and begin care on Stromberg, friends and witnesses said.
After stabilizing Stromberg, the ambulance took him to a Baylor, Scott & White Medical Center in the vicinity.
Stromberg said he didn’t realize how bad his condition was when he started feeling faint on the soccer field that day.
“All of a sudden, I passed out and didn’t remember anything until I woke up in the hospital,” he said.
Stromberg’s heart attack was one of Alkek’s most harrowing experiences, Alkek said.
This is Alkek’s account of what happened: Before the game began, Stromberg warmed up with their team. The two play in the “Over 40 League” in the North Texas Premiere Soccer Association (NTPSA).
About the time of the warmup, Stromberg started not feeling well. So, he went to sit on “the bench” for a bit in the hopes of feeling better.
“Our game commenced,” Alkek explained. “But less than 30 seconds later, the goalkeeper yelled ‘Stop the game’ and we were puzzled. We turned around when we heard him say, ‘Mark has collapsed!’”
Alkek said he looked over at the bench and saw Stromberg bent over backward on the bleachers.
“I knew every second counts in a situation like that, and I was on the far side of the field,” Alkek said. “But I got to him before anyone else and sat him up. It looked like a seizure, but I suspected cardiac symptoms. So I hugged him and picked up and turned him around. He had been really tense. His muscles tensed up and he relaxed.”
With help from others checking Stromberg’s pulse, Alkek immediately started performing CPR on Stromberg — 100 compressions a minute.
“I was doing it to the tune of Staying Alive,” Alkek said. “It was ‘Staying Alive, Staying Alive, bum, bum, bum, bum Staying Alive. …”
Alkek said he asked another player from the team to support Stromberg’s airway.
“So he cradled Mark’s head and I said ‘No, you’re supposed to tilt his forehead,’” he said. “I showed him how to keep the airway open and I continued compressions.”
The ambulance took what Alkek described as an “eternity” to get to the scene.
“We were at a sprawling park and there are a couple of complexes of field and I believe they went to the wrong complex at first,” Alkek said. “We were on Field 18. As I was doing CPR I could hear the sirens for quite awhile.”
Alkek said he was trying to calm his own breathing and use his own body efficiently so he could push himself to keep up the compressions on Stromberg as long as they were needed.
“Eventually, the paramedics got there and hooked him up to defib (a defibrillator), he said. “They shocked him until they got a rhythm.”
But things got scarier with the patient before they got better. Stromberg’s heart stopped again.
“They prepared to shock him and I pulled his wedding ring off and they shocked him again,” Alkek said.
When Stromberg was stabilized, the paramedics put Stromberg in their vehicle and left for the hospital.
“I don’t know how long he had been without oxygen, and I heard his ribs breaking when I was doing compression,” Alkek said. “I know that’s a part of CPR, but I didn’t know what to think at the time.”
Alkek said the emotional impact of helping Stromberg truly hit him when he climbed into a vehicle to follow the ambulance to the hospital.
“I got pretty emotional — I got weepy,” he said with a laugh. “At that point I took the opportunity to call my mom for Mother’s Day. I was feeling very sentimental.”
A member of the patient’s medical team could not immediately be reached to elaborate on the medical situation.
Reached after he had left hospital care, Stromberg said several times he could very well have died if not for Alkek. He said a cardiologist friend provided him with some grim statistics to back that belief up.
“If you have a cardiac arrest of some kind outside of a hospital and it doesn’t somehow stop itself, your chances for survival without complications are 1 or 2 percent,” he said.
The heart attack survivor said he woke up in the hospital “with a very sore chest.”
As Alkek indicated, his aggressive CPR injured Stromberg’s sternum and left Stromberg with broken or sore ribs.
But that means the CPR was performed correctly, Stromberg said.
“If you are not hurting the person, then you are not helping them,” Stromberg said.
When Alkek arrived at the hospital to see how the patient was doing, members of the ER staff shook his hand and told him how improbable it was that Stromberg survived.
Stromberg ended up staying in the hospital that Sunday, Monday and part of Tuesday before he was released. He returned to work May 25.
The entire incident has reinforced to Stromberg the strong importance of needing to know CPR.
“My life was saved by CPR and it is important people learn the most updated information about CPR because they may be called on to save somebody,” he said.
The 57-year-old patient has a 19-year-old son who is a sophomore at Texas A&M and a 21-year-old daughter who is a senior at the University of Texas.
He said he is lucky the 50-year-old Alkek, a resident of Addison, was there to help.
“The guy who saved my life, we have history,” Stromberg said. “My mother knows his mother and his mother knows my wife’s mother and … it’s all in the family.”