Rick Tillery of Clearwater had one request before he was released from Wesley Medical Center.
He wanted to thank some of the people who helped save his life after he suffered a near-fatal heart attack on New Year's Eve.
More than 35 nurses, doctors and other Wesley workers lined up Thursday to shake the hand of a man who teetered on the brink of death for 45 minutes that day as hospital workers kept him alive with CPR.
"I wasn't expecting this," Tillery said as he and his wife, Sharon, shared cake and ice cream with the staff members.
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Wesley officials said several of those at the reception helped perform the chest compressions that kept Tillery alive as doctors feverishly prepared him for open-heart surgery.
"What happened is every surgeon's nightmare," said William Murphy, Tillery's cardiovascular surgeon. "I could have been training all of my life just to do this."
Murphy, who has been practicing medicine since 1968, stopped short of calling Tillery's recovery a miracle. But he said it is almost unheard of for someone to survive for 45 minutes while relying on medical personnel to perform CPR.
"Some of the people in the room said he must have had a guardian angel who was working overtime," Murphy said.
Tillery, 60, said he suffered a mild heart attack on Dec. 23, and was sent home after being treated at Wesley.
Sharon Tillery said that on Christmas Day, a more severe heart attack resulted in a 911 call and a trip to Wesley in an ambulance.
"They couldn't find a blood pressure, so I knew it was pretty serious," she said of the second heart attack.
Tillery was admitted to Wesley that day and scheduled for bypass surgery on Jan. 4. But on New Year's Eve, after Tillery again began experiencing chest pains, doctors decided to operate immediately.
Tillery went into cardiac arrest as soon as he was wheeled into the operating room. Efforts to jump-start the heart with defibrillation were unsuccessful.
Murphy said it normally takes an hour to place a patient on a heart pump so that surgery can be performed.
He said a team of Wesley staffers spent the next 45 minutes performing chest compressions while he connected Tillery to the pump.
The double-bypass operation, which occurred on the couple's 19th anniversary, was successful.
Rick Tillery said he was looking forward to going home today.
"There's a lot of great people here, but it's time for me to step aside and let them take care of somebody else," he said.