A Christmas Story
Michael (aka The Captain) and Judy Wendt share a smile with their grandchildren

Campus Minister Don Clarke told this story to the students last Friday on the December Coed Encounter, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Yes, this is a Christmas story, but it is also a Mary tale and a Resurrection song. Hold on; it's going to be a heckuva ride.

In December, 2005, on the Immaculate Conception, Michael Wendt's heart stopped early in his first period English class. By 2005, Michael had been teaching American lit for 40 years, the past 11 at Jesuit High. He was an Ignatian educator at the top of his game.

Then, at 7:53 am, Michael clutched his chest and started to topple in front of 24 stunned juniors. Michael's fall was broken by a lunging Andrew Ferguson '82, a JHS trustee who happened to be in the room observing class that morning. Andrew kept Michael from hitting his head, and lay him on the floor. He asked if any of the students knew CPR. Carrie Dunn '07 was a lifeguard who had been trained in CPR, so she began compressions on her beloved teacher's arrested heart. (Pause and ponder that scene for a moment.)

Junior Kohl Kreitzberg sprang into action, leaving the room to search for help. As another student ran to the school office, Kohl looked for the AED (defibrillator) that he knew was located in senior hall.

Meanwhile, back in room 60, another JHS trustee, Greg Specht, joined Mr. Ferguson from across the hall while the rest of Michael's students stood in stunned silence, broken only by a few stifled whimpers and silent and fervent prayers. Soon, several administrators, as well as counselor Ken Potter, came hustling into the room. History teacher Jerry Hahn went to find his college roommate, Health teacher Tim Massey, whom he knew to be well-trained for such situations.

Tim immediately took over performing compressions on Michael's still-stopped heart, while Ken took Michael's students down the hall to gather their breath and say a group prayer for their teacher.

In Upper Arrupe Hall, Kohl was pondering how best to extract the AED from its locked, glass enclosure. At that moment, Mr. Mike Hughes came upon the scene. Mike smashed the glass, cutting his hand, and he and Kohl rushed the AED down to room 60.

By that time, a couple of administrators had arrived with the school's other AED. Now, we had two defibs being cracked open, while the only person present who had been trained in their use (Mr. Massey) was busy doing chest compressions and calling Michael back from the abyss.

Michael was still flatlining, while the rest of us tried to remain calm and avoid full panic mode. Mr. Hughes opened one AED, as Mr. Massey told him to listen carefully to the robotic instructions. Together, the men applied the pads of the AED to Michael's now-bare chest. Tim continued to rally Mr. Wendt back to the realm of the living, crying, "Come on, Michael, stay with me! Come on, Michael, don't give up on us! Come back, Michael!"

Across the hall, Mark Flamoe had been teaching his own English class, with Mr. Specht observing. Mr. Flamoe happens to be married to Sabrina Wendt, Michael's daughter. Let's just say the mood in lower Arrupe was tense, as Mark tried to keep his students calm while his own heart thumped with concern for his father-in-law. Tim alternated between CPR and working the AED and we waited for what seemed like hours for the EMTs to arrive.

When the paramedics got to room 60, they evaluated the situation and saw that Mr. Massey was performing life-saving work. They asked Tim to continue his compressions as they used an airbag to ventilate Michael's lungs. They then reevaluated with the AED and intubated Michael. Tim stayed on the job until the paramedics finally shifted Michael from floor to gurney to ambulance.

Principal Sandy Satterberg tapped me to join Michael for what would be a memorable ride to St. Vincent Hospital. When we got in the back of the ambulance, Michael's heart was still not beating on its own, and his life clearly still hung in the balance.

This is what I wrote to the faculty later that day:

It was still very much touch-and-go with Michael when I got in the ambulance to ride with him to the hospital. We didn't know when we left Jesuit whether Michael would make it. He was still essentially flat-lining, though Tim and crew in room 60 had kept his heart pumping through those crucial minutes before the EMTs showed up.

As the sirens wailed and we pulled down the fire lane behind the library, I knew all of us were praying for Michael to pull through. I did not know that right about that moment, Don was leading the school through a prayer over the PA.

As we turned on to the Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy, the traffic was heavy and the tension high. The paramedic who was working on Michael sounded eerily like Tim: "Come on, Michael, come back to me! Come on, Michael! Stay with me!"

As we finally pulled on to 217 toward St. V's, even as Michael struggled for life, I suddenly felt Someone else riding with us. It felt like a warm wind had blown into the ambulance as we sped along the highway, though of course no windows were open. A certainty came into the ambulance: Michael was going to make it. His eyes began to flutter and Michael moved his limbs, and the furiously-pumping paramedic breathed a huge sigh of relief: "He's back!"

By the time we pulled up to the emergency door at St. Vincent's, those of us in the ambulance knew it: Michael Wendt, former JHS Educator of the Year and Ignatian companion to generations of students and staff, was going to live. As we stepped out, I saw Michael's daughters Liesl and Sabrina waiting for us, and we could tell them, "He's ok."

It wasn't until later that I realized our other Companion had been the Holy Spirit, invoked by the community of Jesuit High School shouting up to heaven to bring this good man back to us. I learned later today about Don's PA prayer. I realized that when I finally called from the ambulance, you were all at Mass celebrating the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Like many people, in my life I have been granted the twin graces of both great faith and great doubt. Today, my faith in God and in this community was strengthened immensely. Whether Michael was to live or die, the Holy Spirit was with him today.

We have heard that God helps those who help themselves. More importantly, God helps those who help each other, especially in our times of greatest need. Thank God for Michael's health, for the heroes of room 60 (especially Tim, Mike, Andrew, Greg, the EMTs and those terrific students), and for the prayers of a most remarkable community.

More threads in the tapestry:

  • Michael, Kohl, and Carrie were featured on a number of local and national tv and radio shows after this incident, which helped spark awareness of the lifesaving value of AEDs. Michael spoke of his experience at a number of local schools, workshops, and workplaces. His story played a major role in the proliferation of AEDs in the Portland area.
  • On the day of Michael's cardiac arrest, River (4) and Eli (2) Flamoe were both with their grandma Judy Wendt, who ran a family-only day care at the time. Judy put both kids in the car and drove to St. V's to meet the ambulance, handing them off to Sabrina, who had arrived just before her parents and her husband, Mark Flamoe.
  • Michael and Judy Wendt were at the Christmas concert last week, listening to their grandson, JHS sophomore River Flamoe, blow his horn.
  • The AEDs at Jesuit were at Jesuit because Jeff Wood, at the time Jesuit's trainer, insisted that we have them. Amazingly, Jeff had just two days prior replaced the pads on both AEDs, insuring that they were in working condition. Two of our AEDs were donated by Jeff's dad, famed Portland heart surgeon James Wood. Dr. Wood passed away in November, 2017. On December 9, 2017, Dr. James Wood's Celebration of Life occurred in Jesuit's Moyer Theatre.
  • Shannon Ferguson '18, Andrew's daughter, was a senior leader on DCE and so heard Mr. Clarke's rendition of this tale on December 8, 2017.

Merry Christmas, y'all.

Paul J. Hogan