It was so cold that November day that they almost didn’t go running.
But Wichita police Lt. Clark Wiemeyer and Detective Vince Van had made a pact that, as long as the temperature was above zero, they would run every day. It was, perhaps, 18 degrees at that time on Nov. 12, so they decided to stick with their routine.
Sgt. Santiago Hungria had been running with them for the past several months. He didn’t let the cold stop him, either.
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Those choices saved Van’s life. They had reached Riverside Park on their five-mile route when it happened.
“Vince was leading, like he always was,” Wiemeyer said Tuesday as he recounted the events of that day. “He is a faster runner.”
Hungria was about 100 yards behind him.
“All of a sudden, he disappeared,” Hungria said.
When Hungria caught up to Van, he was on the ground. At first, Hungria thought Van might be “a little short of breath” because it was so cold.
“I was yelling at him and he wasn’t responding,” Hungria said. “That was very odd.”
He called 911 as Wiemeyer reached them. Within moments, Van had stopped breathing. Wiemeyer and Hungria realized Van was having a heart attack. But that was difficult to comprehend, they said, because Van was in great shape.
“We’ve been running (together) for 20 years,” Wiemeyer said.
Over the years, they’ve talked about their families, their dogs, their daughters.
“We frequently talked about why we run — so we wouldn’t have a heart attack,” Wiemeyer said.
And yet that’s what was happening. Wiemeyer began chest compressions and Hungria then joined in as they alternated working to keep Van alive.
“It was a long four minutes until EMS got there,” Wiemeyer said.
Even as they heard sirens approaching, Hungria said, it seemed like it took forever for the ambulance to arrive.
“When you’re in the middle of it, it seemed like about 20 minutes,” Hungria said. “They’re never getting there fast enough.”
Van was rushed to Via Christi Hospital St. Francis, where he underwent surgery. He is already back to work.
Van, 47, has a family history of high cholesterol. He refused to take medication for it, he said, believing he could keep it under control with diet and exercise.
One of the first things Van told Wiemeyer after he regained consciousness after surgery and post-operative treatment was “I guess that running didn’t do me any good.”
When he heard that, Wiemeyer said, “I knew he was OK.”
Actually, Van said, doctors have told him he recovered quickly because of his good physical conditioning. And he’s taking that cholesterol medication now.
Wiemeyer and Hungria were honored with “life saving” awards last month at City Hall.
“It was a miracle — that’s all I can say,” said Wiemeyer, who retired three days after the ceremony.
If Hungria hadn’t joined them for their run, he said, they wouldn’t have had a phone to call 911. If they hadn’t gone on that run, Van may not have been near people who knew CPR when his heart attack struck.
Van doesn’t remember anything about that day except the start of the run. If he had to have a heart attack, he said, it happened at about the best time possible.
“These two guys here were my angels that day,” he said.