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Ten years later, area man visits firefighter who saved his life

'When I saw him, I could barely even speak. I definitely felt emotional,' cardiac arrest survivor says of meeting Orillia firefighter who saved his life
Joe Bladek, who suffered a sudden cardiac arrest in 2011, recently visited with Orillia firefighters who saved his life. From left are Bladek's daughter Amelia, wife Melissa, son Joshua, Bladek himself, and firefighter Santos Guerrera.

Ten years after suffering a sudden cardiac arrest on Park Street, an Orillia man visited with the firefighters who saved his life on that fateful spring day. 

Joe Bladek, 42, was out for a walk with his wife, mother-in-law, and eight-month-old son on Mother’s Day in 2013 when he crumpled to the pavement near Calverley Street. Luckily for Bladek, a couple living close by, who happened to be out in their yard gardening, called 911 immediately.

Orillia firefighters were the first emergency responders on the scene — within a matter of minutes.

“Without them being so quick I would not have made it for sure,” Bladek said. “They were coming from the fire station on (Commerce) Road and the response time was amazing.”

Orillia firefighter Santos Guerrera gave Bladek three shocks from a defibrillator and administered CPR in an effort to resuscitate him.

“I was out for 15 minutes,” Bladek recalls. “He brought me back to life, but my whole family was worried I might have suffered brain damage because I was in a coma for 10 days after that.”

Bladek was stabilized at Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital before being moved to Toronto General Hospital where he stayed for three months and underwent open heart surgery.

Bladek was born with a heart condition but had some medical procedures done by doctors who told him he shouldn’t have any issues for the rest of his life.

“All of a sudden that did not work out for me,” he said.

The last 10 years have flown by for Bladek who has since welcomed a daughter into the world. With the anniversary of his near-death experience being last weekend, he was feeling sentimental and had the desire to reflect on how he’s still alive today.

“Firefighters see people in incapacitated situations all the time,” he said. “They probably don’t see the other side of what they did and how it impacted the people they helped.”

Without Orillia firefighters, Bladek imagines that his daughter would have never been born, his son wouldn’t have a father, and his wife wouldn’t have a husband, which is why he visited the fire hall with them last weekend.

“I just wanted to go back there and say thanks,” he said. “I have a great deal of respect for anyone who is driving an ambulance, a fire truck, and police officers.”

Bladek says it was emotional for him to meet Guerrera, whom he credits the most for saving his life.

“When I saw him, I could barely even speak,” he said. “I definitely felt emotional and couldn’t hold myself together at that moment.”

Guerrera says he remembers receiving the call that day.

"I remember it all pretty clear," he said. "We recognized quickly the condition he was in, what was going on, and we were able to get a shock and oxygen into him right away." 

Guerrera, 39, says it was "truly a team effort" to revive Bladek.

"It's hard for me to take personal credit for something like that," he said. "Whoever would have been called that day to do that job would have done the same thing." 

Seeing Bladek living a happy and healthy life with his family was gratifying for Guerrera.

"You could really see how appreciative and thankful he is," Guerrera said. "It was definitely nice to see for all the guys here." 

Typically, firefighters don't know what happens to the people they support once they've left an emergency call, which makes it extra special when people come back to visit and thank them, he said.

"Every time we get to hear something positive like this it makes us all feel better about our roles here," Guerrera said. "It was nice to have Joe in here, to meet with him, and to hear his story." 

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Tyler Evans

About the Author: Tyler Evans

Tyler Evans got his start in the news business when he was just 15-years-old and now serves as a video producer and reporter with OrilliaMatters
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