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'Guardian angel' St. Luke's nurse jumps into action to give CPR to man lying on sidewalk

Jenni Sasser stands on the sky bridge at St. Luke's Children's Hospital with the Boise foothills in the background.
By Dave Southorn, News and Community
May 10, 2024

It is not lost on Mark Schumacher the incredible series of events that had to occur for him to still be alive today.

The time, the place, the person who saw him lying on a sidewalk on Bogus Basin Road in Boise, it all was right.

And despite the cardiac event that changed his life hardly being described as “good,” everything combined to give him a second shot at life — particularly thanks to a St. Luke’s registered nurse.

“A word I’d first thought of was ‘coincidence,’ but this wasn’t coincidental,” Schumacher said. “I don’t know why this happened to me, but me being here, something was meant to be.”

On March 17 — St. Patrick’s Day — Schumacher and his brother Louis went for a walk.

Visiting Boise from Lewiston for an uncle’s 90th birthday, Mark planned to drive home that day, but the retired 66-year-old decided to stay for one more night and spend time with his older brother (one of his nine siblings).

The pair wandered around Louis’ North End neighborhood. They then made what turned out to be a fateful decision, walking up Bogus Basin Road toward the Simplot hill.

When they turned around to head back toward Louis’ home, Mark collapsed.

“He just said, ‘I need to rest a minute,’ then he fell backward, hit his head,” Louis said. “I was rattled, had a hard time even operating my phone; I called 911 and didn’t even hit send. I was like, ‘answer, answer!’ But I realized I hadn’t finished dialing.

“But right after I called again, there she was.”

Mark Schumacher holds a teddy bear given to him after heart surgery to help alleviate pain when coughing. He said "when you're a 66-year-old man holding a teddy bear, you've got to own it. It helps!"

“She” is Jenni Sasser, a St. Luke’s registered nurse who has spent the last 12 years working in the neonatal intensive care unit.

Sasser was heading down from a day of skiing with her mother and two of her children when she saw Mark lying on the sidewalk, Louis on his phone connecting to 911.

“I saw it and just told my mom, ‘We have to stop,’” Sasser said. “I ran up, Louis had just called. I tried to get a pulse, you could tell he was in a cardiac arrest, so I did CPR on him until EMS got there.”

Mark had been on the ground for only about a minute before Sasser arrived.

And there was another timely stroke of luck to this story.

“On the way down, there was this car behind me that wanted to get down in a hurry, so we pulled over and let them pass,” Sasser said. “We may not have seen him if we hadn’t done that.”

Sasser performed CPR for about seven minutes before emergency services arrived, then she let them take over.

“I work in the NICU; I’ve experienced a lot of high-pressure situations, but this was different, outside the hospital. I didn’t know if he was going to make it,” Sasser said.

Once Mark was taken to St. Luke’s Boise, it was quickly evident that he had a positive outlook, thanks to Sasser’s remarkable instincts and assistance.

Dr. Andrew Forbes, his cardiac surgeon, noted that without CPR, Mark likely would have died within five minutes.

But once the ambulance hurried Mark away, Sasser had no idea of any of this. And her lifesaving aid was certainly not forgotten by one key person — Louis.

“She was heaven-sent,” Louis said. “I knew by the look on her face that she was worried. I was able to thank her, but she was just focused on Mark.

“I didn’t get her name, so the last thing I told my wife that night was that I felt terrible because it bothered me she didn’t know he was going to be OK.”

Jenni Sasser and Mark Schumacher were reunited April 25, a month after she performed CPR on him after a cardiac arrest on a Boise road.

Sasser called a colleague that night to tell her the story, making sure she did everything right. What she did was by the book.

Later, her colleague told Sasser about a Facebook post on a group dedicated to emergency services from Louis’ daughter-in-law seeking the woman who helped Mark.

“I was like, ‘maybe it was me,’ and she goes, ‘how many people do you think had someone jump out of their car to give CPR in the foothills today?” Sasser said with a laugh.

She was then able to connect with Louis, who kept her updated on Mark’s progress.

As for Mark, he remembers nothing from the moment of his cardiac event and the days following. He needed a double bypass, which Dr. Forbes performed three days later. It wasn’t until March 22 that it dawned on Mark he had gone through something incredible.

“The nurses took me into the bathroom, and I looked in the mirror, saw a huge scar on my chest,” Mark said.

But for all he had gone through, Mark had a good prognosis. He was able to leave the hospital March 27, recuperating at Louis’ home.

He and Louis quickly took to Mark’s rehabilitation, going on walks together, at first while Mark used a walker. Eventually, they became longer and longer as Mark regained strength. On April 27, they took part in the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network PurpleStride walk in Boise, covering 3.1 miles.

“It wasn’t competitive or anything. We might have been the slowest group, but we finished it, which was just wonderful to be able to do with Mark, considering what had happened just a month before,” Louis said.

Two days before the walk, there was an emotional reunion.

Mark was doing well enough to plan his return to Lewiston, but before he left, he wanted to meet the person who saved his life. He and Louis came to visit Sasser at St. Luke’s.

“It was this full-circle moment, just a really special thing,” Sasser said. “We’ll always have a bond and a connection. He’s such a genuine, nice person, too. He was so grateful. I’m grateful, too, they’ve been so wonderfully kind to me.

“And to see him doing well? That just made it even better. It felt like a miracle. That hope, that’s why we do what we do.”

The Schumacher family could not have been happier, either.

“I’m here today because of her,” Mark said. “I think of her every day and pray for her, and I’m thankful she did what she did. I told her she’s my guardian angel. You wonder who we come across and what impact we might have on people … I hope she knows the impact she has.

“The more I learned, the more I understood the odds were not in my favor, for it all to come together is just amazing.”

But Sasser also hopes that her story can inspire anyone to help, whether they are a medical professional or not.

According to the American Heart Association, 9.1% of cardiac arrests outside of a hospital end in survival, with the patient being discharged. However, immediately performing CPR can double or triple survival rates. Only about 40% of cardiac arrests have someone nearby perform CPR.

“It can be an intimidating moment, but you can make a difference before someone gets there,” Sasser said. “It really does work, and it can save someone’s life.”

About The Author

Dave Southorn works in the Communications and Marketing department at St. Luke's.