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Video: Wauwatosa man makes 'miracle' recovery after dying for 8 minutes


Feb. 3, 2016

It began as a normal day.

Richard Kulikowski headed home after working a shift at his manufacturing job in Mukwonago — the same company he's worked at for years. He made a pit stop on the way home to fill up his truck with gasoline.

As he parked his red truck on Vista Avenue in front of his Wauwatosa home, he was met by his wife, Anne, who had ventured outside from the couple's green and white home to greet him.

Together, the duo walked up a small set of concrete steps and took their seats on patio furniture in the back of the house — Anne always sat to the left, Richard to the right.

It was a routine. There was nothing out of the ordinary, nothing notable about that afternoon last May. Richard and Anne met while attending Wauwatosa East High School, both graduating in 1975 before later settling into the same neighborhood they both grew up in.

Suddenly, Anne noticed something unusual about her husband; he was slouched in his seat. Something felt off. Anne knew something wasn't right.

So she called 911.

She returned to her husband, yanking his now-blue tongue out of his mouth. She didn't know what was happening, but she knew she was losing him. She began CPR compressions — a technique she had learned while serving as caregiver to her parents and in-laws before they each eventually passed away.

She had lost so many loved ones in recent years, she wasn't about to let herself lose Richard.

Anne's compressions weren't enough. Richard died on the patio.

The woman began screaming "bloody murder" as she recalled it. A neighbor passing by jumped out of her vehicle to see what was the matter. The emergency responders Anne had phoned for were at the front door, they hadn't made their way to the back patio yet.

"I kept saying, 'You're not leaving me,'" Anne said, as she recalled the day, tears welling up in her eyes. "It seemed like years."

The neighbor brought the paramedics to the back of the house. When they arrived, they moved Richard so he was laying on his back on the concrete.

Anne was nearby, pleading and praying that her husband would come back to her.

And so he did.

Emergency responders were able to revive him, eventually finding a heartbeat. Richard was rushed off to the hospital and Anne followed the ambulance. Doctors demanded answers from Anne: what sort of medications was Richard on? Did he have any reoccurring health problems? When was the last time he had a physical?

But Richard was healthy, said Anne — he wasn't on any medications and his most recent physical came back without a single blemish.

After several tests, doctors told the couple fluid had built up near Richard's lungs, putting pressure on his heart, which was only operating at 10 percent when he died.

Richard was dead for eight minutes, before emergency crew Squad 51 — a number seared into the couple's brain — revived him. Doctors told Anne that even if her husband were to recover, that was far too long for the brain to be cut off from an oxygen supply. At best, he would suffer brain damage.

During those eight minutes, Richard said he never saw "the light," — his wife never let him go that far. It simply wasn't his time to go.

Against all odds, Richard made a full recovery. He spent several days in the hospital and months at home taking antibiotics and receiving care from his wife, whom he calls his best friend.

"The first thing I asked her was, 'What happened?'" Richard said.

The Wauwatosa man was back to work by October. Now, Richard is equipped with a heart monitor that will beep if he ever comes close to a dangerous situation again.

"People kept looking at (Richard) saying it's a miracle," said Anne.

Although Richard doesn't remember much about the hours and days before the incident, he said the entire experience has shaped his life in unexpected ways.

"Just live life," Richard said. "No regrets."

Everything was aligned that day, said Anne, who believed she was there for a reason. Had she not greeted her husband at his truck, had they not taken a few minutes to relax on the back patio, would Richard still be alive?

Likely not, she said.

In the end, the couple's routine turned out to be the right dosage of extraordinary to keep the couple together for years to come.

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