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A good reason for giving thanks

Mike Wojnowski whispers words encouragement after his grandson's Nick Sparacio 7 basketball game  Saturday  November 17 2012 Naperville

Mike Wojnowski whispers words of encouragement after his grandson's Nick Sparacio 7, basketball game on Saturday, November 17, 2012 in Naperville IL. | Terence Guider-Shaw~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 21, 2012 5:18PM



For most people, this week’s Thanksgiving holiday means taking note of family, friends and a comfortable home in which to live, and voicing some gratitude aloud. But for one Montgomery man, this Thanksgiving brings an opportunity to appreciate something more.

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It was probably just the heat, Mike Wojnowski figured.

When the Montgomery resident started to have trouble breathing in the waning days of summer, he wrote it off to the hot, muggy weather that had returned in the last half of August. He’d been an athlete all his life, and he’d felt fine till now. And anyway, heart attacks were something that happened to other guys.

His wife, Betty, convinced him to have their doctor at Edward Hospital’s clinic in Oswego take a look. It was only a few minutes after the EKG was done, he said, when the nurses come into the exam room with the news: cardiac episodes don’t just happen to other guys.

Mike didn’t believe it at first.

“I didn’t fall over. I just had this steady, rotten pain,” he said.

The family-practice physician who cares for the couple, Dr. Mark Yarshen, recognized the need to have a specialist look Mike over, and soon. It turned out there wasn’t a moment to lose.

A hastily arranged ambulance ride to Rush-Copley Medical Center in Aurora was followed the next day by an airlift to Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, where Mike wound up on an operating table for more than seven hours. His heart was taken out and kept chilled in a specialized cooler while the medical team weighed which issue to address first: the bad valves or the pneumonia he had. Another specialist was called in; he might have ideas.

“‘His pipes need cleaning, that’s all,’ he tells my wife and kids,” Mike said. “He reassures them, ‘He’s gonna make it.’ My wife thinks it’s worth it, because she’s rolling the dice, with me dying. ... By then it’s 47 to nothing and it’s the fourth quarter.”

Pipe-cleaning wasn’t quite all he needed. Ensuing complications included several touch-and-go days during which Mike’s siblings came by to say their good-byes. A priest came and administered last rites.

Meanwhile, fluid accumulating as a result of the pneumonia caused his head to swell and make him look “like a giant chipmunk” — and robbed him of his sight for several anxious days.

But one fine morning, as Betty continued her bedside vigil, the darkness began to cease.

“I could see a little squiggly out of my right eye,” he said, relating that he turned toward the one he insists deserves the most credit for his recovery. “I said ‘Honey, come here and give me a kiss.’”

A long road stretched ahead still, but he was wowed at having dodged so many bullets.

“I just thought my God, I’m alive. I can build myself back up again,” Mike said. “I’m not looking up from eight feet under.”

In retrospect, there is chagrin over letting more than four decades go by without seeing a doctor. Mike’s last physical was a sports check-up required for those who want to play college sports. Now that sort of judgment is the domain of “egotistical maniacs,” he says.

“You just go through this, and you grow up real fast. You know what’s important in life,” he said, rattling off commitments he has renewed to loved ones over the past couple of months. “I used to go to Mass every Sunday. I still go to Mass every Sunday, but now I spend 10 or 20 minutes with Him every morning, too. ... I don’t know what contributed to God opening all these doors. All I know is He opened them up for me.

“You just never know.”



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