Don’s Appliances Employee Hailed as a Hero

Heart attack survivor Mark Symms, center, with his “guardian angels” and fellow recovered cardiac patients Susan Koeppen and Dustin Kovlacik, he of Don’s Appliances.

Dustin Kovalcik was just delivering the goods when he helped deliver a miracle

By Andy Kriege, YSN

It was just another day in July for Dustin Kovalcik, who was making his usual round of morning deliveries for Don’s Appliances in a residential part of Pittsburgh.

Kovalcik was nearing a busy intersection when he noticed a car drift through traffic and veer off onto the sidewalk. When he saw that the driver was slumped in his seat, he stopped his truck and jumped into action. 

“I immediately called 911, let them know the location, and ran over to do whatever I could,” Kovalcik said.

Already rendering aid was local news anchor Susan Koeppen, who also witnessed the incident. Together they pulled the driver, 64-year-old Mark Symms, from his car.

“I grabbed his legs and she grabbed his upper body and we laid him down in the street,” Kovalcik said. The newswoman began performing hands-only CPR on Symms while the Don’s deliveryman stayed on the line with 911 and did his best to direct traffic around the victim. 

Then, amid the chaos of gawkers and heavy traffic, Kovalcik heard Koeppen scream. “The car is moving!” she shouted.

Kovalcik leapt into Symms’s car, steered it away from its fallen owner and threw the shifter into park. But unfortunately for Koeppen, it was not before the car rolled atop her foot, causing a painful though minor injury.

After several tense minutes of rendering aid, police and EMTs arrived and took command. “It was pretty stressful,” Kovalcik said. “Those six minutes seemed like an eternity. I was scared and my adrenaline was pumping like crazy, but I managed to do what I had to do.”

Once Symms was whisked away by ambulance, Kovalcik and Keoppen were approached by Dr. Nicholas George, the onsite emergency medical services physician. He informed them that Symms had suffered a heart attack and that their efforts had saved his life.

As Dr. George explained, 350,000 cardiac arrests occur each year outside of a hospital, and 90% percent of patients don’t survive. Administering CPR on site triples a victim’s chance of survival, he said, while each minute without action decreases that chance by about 10%.

In a remarkable twist of fate, both Kovalcik and Keoppen are heart attack survivors themselves, and similarly owe their lives to strangers. 

Keoppen’s cardiac arrest occurred in 2011, while jogging less than a mile from where she helped save Symms. Two medical students saw her collapse and administered lifesaving CPR.

Two years later, Kovalcik flatlined while hospitalized for a necrotizing pneumonia, a rare type of infection that kills lung tissue. He was resuscitated after going into cardiac arrest but then fell into a coma, in which he remained for 47 days. Getting back on his feet was slow and painful, he said, but he beat the odds and made a full recovery. 

Kovalcik is a reticent hero. He insists that the real heroes are the first responders who grapple with life-and-death situations every day, and has been taken aback by the media attention he has received. Besides YSN, his story of being on both sides of death-defying heart failure garnered coverage on Keoppen’s TV station, WPXI Channel 11, and in the local Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Mark Symms embraces hero delivery driver Dustin Kovalcik.

Kovalcik and Koeppen have since visited with Symms, who said he was running some crosstown errands when he was stricken. Now fully mended, Symms credits “divine intervention” for bringing to the scene two “guardian angels” and fellow heart attack survivors who interceded on his behalf and gave him more time to spend with his sons and grandkids.

Kovalcik similarly believes he survived his own cardiac arrest and was sent to that intersection that day to serve a higher purpose. “There were too many coincidences for me to say it was just random happenstance for me to be there,” he said. “I feel someone above put me in that location at that exact time for a reason — to be able to lend a helping hand and pay it back as an expression of thanks to those who saved me.”

Kovalcik has since taken CPR training in anticipation being called upon again.  

Perhaps the most important takeaway from this incredible story: Everyone should learn the simple, hands-only CPR technique that saved Symms’s life (see video, below), and be ready, willing and able to jump in and help another in their time of need.

BrandSource, a unit of YSN publisher AVB Inc., is a nationwide buying group for independent appliance, mattress, furniture and CE dealers.