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She Gets a Chance to Thank, Nervously, the Man Who Saved Her Life : Straight From the Heart

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Bernice Colopy woke up early Friday morning in her hospital room, anxiously awaiting the arrival of her angel.

The 73-year-old real estate agent had no memory of Dan Sforza, who last month leaned over her as she lay on the asphalt of a traffic-choked freeway and used CPR to massage life back to her still heart, an act doctors say saved her life.

As she sat in a wheelchair among flowers and cards from well-wishers, Colopy fussed with her makeup a bit, put on her nicest sweater and pinned to it a small golden cherub that she named Dan.

“Gosh, I’m so nervous. I don’t know if I can look him in the eye,” said Colopy. “How can I tell him how grateful I am?”

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A few minutes later, Colopy had her chance.

Dressed in his olive-green state Fish & Game warden’s uniform, the tall, blond Sforza strode into the room. In moments, Colopy’s arms were tightly hugging her savior as she tearfully murmured her thanks.

It was a far happier scene than the last time the two Mission Viejo residents met Oct. 24 during rush hour on Interstate 5 near El Toro Road.

Sforza remembers seeing Colopy’s 1986 Oldsmobile stalled in the fast lane with several people standing around her locked car wondering what to do.

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“I saw her flopped backward with her eyes open,” said Sforza. “Her color looked bad and I knew I had to do something quick.”

He smashed open a rear window with his baton, and with the help of bystanders, eased Colopy out of the car and laid her onto a blanket in the median.

By this time, she had stopped breathing and had no pulse.

Sforza knew what to do: CPR.

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He had performed the procedure twice before while working on patrol at Mammoth ski resort, but both of his subjects died. He put that out of his mind and kept working on Colopy, pumping her chest to stimulate the heart.

“There was a huge adrenaline rush, but I knew what needed to be done,” he said.

Shortly afterward, paramedics arrived and used a defibrillator to shock Colopy’s heart into beating again.

As he watched the ambulance pull away, Sforza said he hoped for the best but feared the worst: “I still didn’t think she had a good chance to survive.”

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But a few miles away at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center, emergency physician Dr. Wayne Fields saw a 72-year-old woman in remarkably good shape. Most heart attack victims arrive in far worse condition since few get CPR--cardiopulmonary resuscitation--before the paramedics get to them.

“This lady came in with a pulse and heart rhythm. . . . I had almost nothing to do,” Fields said. Sforza “not only knew what to do, but it worked.”

Fields said the quick response of Sforza and the paramedics saved Colopy’s life.

Said Fields: “All I can say is that she must have had an angel watching over her shoulder.”

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Colopy went on to have heart surgery and is recovering well. She celebrated her 73rd birthday in the hospital four days after the heart attack and is now using stairs with the help of a cane.

On Tuesday, she will go home in time to spend Thanksgiving with her family.

“Words are so inadequate at times like this,” said her son, Jack Colopy of Laguna Niguel, a 43-year-old communications executive and part-time scuba instructor who once used CPR to help a diver in distress. “I know society tends to accent the negative, but I believe there are a lot of Dan Sforzas out there.”


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