Steelers fan, family well cared for after game day collapse
Wife, Susan Gebhardt -- "[The samaritans] saved a family."
Brothers Phil, right, with Jeff Gebhardt -- "The city of Pittsburgh has bent over backwards."
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His brothers were waiting outside, ready to go to Station Square. A seat was waiting in Heinz Field, where his beloved Steelers would play soon. His wife and children were waiting at home in Indiana, and Christmas was around the corner.
But on Sunday, Jay Gebhardt, 49, could not shake the chest pain -- heartburn, he thought -- that had dogged him for hours. He stepped into the 7-Eleven store attached to the Doubletree Hotel and Suites, Downtown, and stopped by a shelf stacked with Tylenol and aspirin.
Then he collapsed.
Fates are decided in moments. Mr. Gebhardt was on the floor, in cardiac arrest, when a store clerk dashed over and started administering CPR. An older African-American couple called 911. Paramedics whisked him to UPMC Mercy.
Tuesday morning, he opened his eyes. A tube blocked his throat, but he mouthed something to his wife.
"Are you trying to say 'I love you'?" she asked. He nodded.
Mr. Gebhardt, of Valparaiso, Ind., was in critical condition Tuesday. But his relatives, gathered in a waiting room at the hospital, were overwhelmed with gratitude.
"Our family can't ever repay Pittsburgh for the amount of kindness," said Phil Gebhardt, Jay's younger brother.
The Doubletree, where the brothers stayed, paid for their rooms. The hotel's shuttle driver refused their tips. A friend flew Jay Gebhardt's wife and mother to Pittsburgh on a private plane. Nurses soothed them. The Sisters of Mercy set them up in an apartment across the street.
Most of all, the Gebhardts want to thank the three people who acted in that moment: the store clerk and the senior citizen couple. They do not know who they were.
Administered swiftly, CPR can allay the harm oxygen loss causes to body tissue and delay brain damage.
"Those people actually probably saved his life," Phil Gebhardt said.
"They saved a family," said Susan Gebhardt, Jay's wife.
The Gebhardts said their loved one would be in intensive care for at least another week.
"He's not out of the woods at all," said Phil Gebhardt.
Still they are cautiously optimistic. Jay Gebhardt could not speak Tuesday, but he could nod, follow basic commands and recognize people, his relatives said.
Last weekend marked the three Gebhardt brothers' fifth annual trip to a Steelers game.
Their mother is from Swissvale, but Jay Gebhardt and his siblings grew up in Ohio, moving to Indiana in the 1960s.
Saturday night, after the drive to Pittsburgh, he started to complain of chest pain. Sunday, his brothers urged him to stay home, but he refused, saying: "I didn't drive all this way to watch the Steelers from a hotel room." Instead, they decided to go to Station Square to buy a Steelers jersey for his son.
"While we were waiting for the driver, Jay went into 7-Eleven," said Jeff Gebhardt, his older brother.
"When I went to find him, the clerk there was giving him mouth-to-mouth, and this couple called 911 and was starting to give him chest compressions."
In the rush, the brothers did not thank anyone.
"It goes by so fast," said Phil Gebhardt. "You forget to say anything."
At the hospital, Jay Gebhardt underwent surgery. He was placed in an induced coma until early Tuesday, when staff started to wake him.
"It was extremely comforting and reassuring," said Ms. Gebhardt. "It just became clear that he did know who I was."
Tuesday afternoon, Jay Gebhardt was sedated and sleeping. Relatives settled into the waiting room, where they plan to spend many hours with the hospital's puzzles -- a floral scene, a brick house, two cats -- and each other.
First Published December 22, 2010 12:00 am