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Back on the Road
by Tom Weaver

In the early miles of the Vermont City Marathon, runners follow an out-and-back spur on a section of highway that crosses the undeveloped floodplain of the Winooski River. With no families or friends lining the course, it has all the makings of a lonely four-mile stretch. Runners are largely on their own to generate support for themselves and one another, which they do with frequent shouts of encouragement throughout the pack.

At the 2003 race on May 25, that sense of solidarity took on a new level of meaning when David Hershberg ’55 fell to the ground near mile 4 in a state of cardiac arrest.

Amy Chekos, a fourth-year UVM medical student, was heading back into town about seven miles into her own race, cruising at a pace that would give her a good chance at achieving her longtime goal of running sub-three hours. But instead of the standard “Good job!” from the runners coming toward her, she heard cries of “There’s a man down! We need a doctor!”

There would be other days to run fast. Chekos stopped as did many others in a growing support team remarkable for its emergency medical expertise and a coincidental network of UVM connections. Chekos was joined by Dr. Dan Busse ’91 MD ’00; Dr. Chris Viscomi, an anesthesiologist and professor in the College of Medicine; and a trio of UVM Rescue members all running the race — Jennifer Demaroney, Joanne Lalime, and Zach Keller. Also key to the rescue was Jeff Maher, a police detective from New Hampshire, who was the first on the scene to start CPR.

Hershberg could scarcely have found better help if he’d fallen at the entrance to the Emergency Room, but his condition was critical as his heart stopped once on the course and once on the way to the hospital. The impromptu medical team worked together to keep him alive until the ambulance crew arrived. Chekos recalls the strange moment of transition as they handed over care of Hershberg. Busse turned to her and said, “Now what?”

Being runners, they started running. Chekos says it was a soul searching journey to the finish, filled with thoughts of her father, her reasons for being a doctor, and, of course, Hershberg’s life in the balance. Her gut told her that he would make it because of the strong spirit so evident as he fought to hang on.

She was right. Two months after the race, sitting with his wife Judy Silon Hershberg ’56 in the living room of their Burlington home, David Hershberg is a grateful man who calls his survival a miracle.

He’s thankful to be here; thankful for his fellow runners, family, community; thankful for Fletcher-Allen Hospital staff, his cardiologist Dr. Robert Lobel ’91, and the team at UVM’s Cardiac Rehabilitation where, in July, he was already up to 40 minutes walking/12 minutes running. Being in excellent shape helped Hershberg survive and he intends to stay that way.

Judy offers that her husband is already asking for longer workouts, thinking the cardiac folks could loosen the reins a bit. With the wisdom and patience that comes from 47 years of marriage she smiles and says, “It’s nice to know that we’ve got him back.”