Good Samaritans’ fast actions and the availability of an AED saved a man’s life at a Winona pickleball tournament last month.

La Crosse, Wis., area resident Dave Bonifus was in town on October 16 for a Winona Area Tennis Association (WATA) pickleball tournament at the John Nett Recreation Center. “Dave had just gotten done playing,” recalled WATA board member Matt Breza, who was also playing in the tournament. “He was up on the mezzanine talking to some people, walking with his wife, when he fell down.”

Bonifus collapsed. Breza was down on the courts when he heard the commotion. “Someone yelled, and chaos erupted, and we ran up the steps,” he said.

One of the people who came running was Doug Berg, a retired EMT from Iowa. With his emergency medical experience, Berg didn’t miss a beat. He checked Bonifus and instantly started performing CPR. 

Many people helped in the flurry of activity that followed, Breza explained. While others called 911, Breza ran to get an AED, or automated external defibrillator, which had been donated to WATA by Fastenal. A study in the American Heart Association’s Circulation journal found that heart attack victims who receive a shock from a bystander-administered AED are twice as likely to survive compared to victims who don’t receive one until an ambulance arrives.

“I opened up the machine and undid those pads,” Breza said. Bonifus’ wife placed the pads, and the AED analyzed Bonifus’ condition before administering a shock. “And then — it seemed longer than minutes, but maybe a minute — his eyes started fluttering, and he came back.”

“It was — I don’t know how to describe that,” Breza said when asked what he felt when Bonifus came to. “The relief, but you still wonder if everything is OK. You’re kind of anxiously awaiting help.” He added, “It’s a mixed bag of emotions … I just wanted him to be OK.”

Bonifus regained consciousness just as a Winona Fire Department (WFD) crew arrived. They determined he was stable and watched over him until an ambulance arrived. Thanks to several people’s quick actions, Bonifus was OK.

On November 10, WATA held a ceremony to thank those involved, including the players who stepped up, and WFD and Winona Area Ambulance Service crews. “When addressing the group assembled last week, the Bonifus [families’] heartfelt thanks brought tears to most of our eyes,” WATA President Paul Brosnahan wrote.

“It was really a collective effort that worked together to make it a success,” Breza said. “There were the right people with the right training in the right place at the right time.” He added, “Luckily we did have that AED, and we were able to utilize it, and we had the right folks that were able to assist and save Dave.”