Cathedral’s A.E.D. Device, Staff And Samaritans Save a Life


A Minnesota woman who was revived after collapsing from sudden cardiac arrest at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan has a grateful heart this Thanksgiving.

“It’s a miracle—I’m realizing that more all the time, and with that comes a lot of gratitude,” Dorothy Bisek, 73, said of her ordeal that occurred around 6:40 p.m. on Nov. 12, as she and her three daughters were touring the cathedral on their own after the 5:30 p.m. Vigil Mass.

“It was the best possible place, if it had to happen,” said Mrs. Bisek, who is Lutheran.

(Her husband DeWayne, a Catholic who belongs to St. Mary’s parish in Alexandria, Minn., was not along on the trip.)

Their daughter Cindy Burnham, 42, a federal law enforcement officer who administered CPR while cathedral staff retrieved the on-site automated external defibrillator, or A.E.D., credits the staff, the device and three doctors who came to their aid for helping to save her mother’s life.

“We were all very calmed, knowing that we were in God’s house,” she said of her family. “God is always with us, but when you’re in a cathedral like that, you see it and you really feel it. We all could feel the love of the parishioners and feel God’s love surrounding us, and certainly he protected us that day.

“I did chest compressions for 30 or 45 seconds, and then one of the ushers grabbed an A.E.D. machine,” said Mrs. Burnham, who is a parishioner of Our Lady of Grace in Edina, Minn. Around the same time, “three doctors approached us,” she said of one man and two women who saw they were in distress, identified themselves as doctors “and helped us.”

The A.E.D.—which was subsequently hooked up to Mrs. Bisek by one of the doctors and Mrs. Burnham—indicated after a scan of her body that she “had no heartbeat and no pulse,” Mrs. Burnham said. As it is designed to do, the A.E.D. then “delivered a shock.”

“That saved her life,” she said. “Then the doctor continued chest compressions for about two more minutes, the A.E.D. did another scan and could sense that her heart had started beating again. The combination of the CPR and the A.E.D. machine revived her.

“At that point, she started blinking her eyes again” and correctly answered questions from the doctor, namely her name and whereabouts, the date and approximate time.

“It was miraculous,” Mrs. Burnham said. “This wouldn’t have happened without the cathedral having a working A.E.D. machine, and having staff who knew where it was and who went and got it when they saw there was an emergency.”

An ambulance arrived in 18 minutes—Mrs. Burnham surmised the delay was because Fifth Avenue had been shut down as a mass of demonstrators protested for a fourth day the election of President-elect Donald Trump. (The cathedral is located at Fifth Avenue and 50th Street.)

Mrs. Bisek was transported to New York Presbyterian Hospital. She was discharged on Nov. 16.

“I think her life was saved within the first three minutes because of the A.E.D. machine and because of the C.P.R.,” Mrs. Burnham said.

“If the cathedral did not have a working A.E.D. machine, then we would have been relying on the ambulance to bring us one, and that’s where it would have been too late.”

Mindful that 5.5 million people visit the cathedral throughout the course of a year, Msgr. Robert T. Ritchie, the cathedral rector, said the cathedral staff is aware that emergencies can occur and “we have to do our best to intervene to prevent bad things happening.”

“The Christmas holidays are upon us,” he said, “and that’s when we get the bulk of the people who come to visit.”

Of his staff, he said he is “very proud of them all the time, and even more so now.”

“It’s amazing that all this happened during the Year of Mercy,” Msgr. Ritchie said. “It was certainly a sign of God’s mercy for the lady from Minnesota that the right people were there at the right time, including my staff and including a number of doctors who were in church at that time.”

Mrs. Bisek had come to New York for what was supposed to be a four-day sightseeing trip with a group of women that included her two other daughters, Anne Bisek, 45, of California, and Nancy Kleespies, 43, of North Dakota.

The group arrived on Nov. 10 and were to depart on Nov. 13.

Before she flew home to Minnesota from New York on Nov. 18, Mrs. Bisek already had one portion of her Thanksgiving plans percolating. “When we go around the table before we eat and say what we’re thankful for, you know what I’m going to say.

“Every day is a gift, and God has blessed us richly.”