Michele Gaxiola thought her co-worker was sleeping, perhaps an after-lunch snooze.
“I peeked around the corner and thought, ‘How cute. He fell asleep,’” she said of that mid-August afternoon in the Pima County Public Defender’s Office.
But when Gaxiola tried to wake attorney Howard Wine, who was slouched in his chair, she quickly realized those snoring sounds had actually been gasps for breath.
And now, nothing. No pulse. No breathing.
As Gaxiola called out for help and ran to grab her phone, Babbi Pallanes rushed in. Critical details from the lifesaving classes she’d taken the previous year flooded her mind.
Get him on the floor, she told her gathering office mates.
They worked together, with one person holding his head to clear his airway while Pallanes started compressions. When she grew tired, someone relieved her.
“He did take a breath when I started doing the chest compressions,” she said. “I was afraid I was doing it too hard.”
She wasn’t. Minutes, just a few, and then a faint pulse.
Another colleague had rushed downstairs, an anxious escort for the Tucson Fire paramedics arriving at 33 N. Stone Ave.
Wine was in bad shape. He later learned he’d had just an 8 percent chance of survival.
Wine, a 58-year-old father of three, was rushed to the nearest hospital: St. Mary’s at 1601 W. St. Mary’s Road.
His body was chilled to preserve brain function. He spent 10 days in a medically induced coma.
On Friday, the bunch that saved him stopped in for a visit.
“There’s just nothing like knowing that they were the difference between life and death for me,” Wine said from his hospital bed. He is thankful for several things, first and foremost that his door was open .
“I’m also so grateful that someone was alert about what was a laughable thing,” he said, “and third, that there was someone there who was trained and ready to roll, with a lot of backup.”
He doesn’t remember feeling uncomfortable before his heart stopped working. In fact, he doesn’t remember anything at all.
“Perhaps if I went back and looked at emails, I could remember,” he said.
Wine has had low blood pressure, so much so that he had a pacemaker put in last spring. After that procedure, he said everything seemed fine. He thinks back to how his own father died of a massive heart attack when he was in his 40s.
“His health situation was so different from mine,” Wine said. “I have low blood pressure and I’m skinny. I take after my mom, and so to have heart problems like this was a real surprise.”
His wife of 24 years, attorney Julie Duvall, said she had never worried about her husband having heart troubles.
“He’s very active,” she said. “He had just ridden on a big bike ride the Sunday before, a 30-mile bike ride.”
She said she’s glad she wasn’t in the office that afternoon and is so grateful to the colleagues and friends who were.
“We didn’t think we would see him again,” she said. “And now he’s sitting here, reading a book.”