Neighbors' quick action saves Limerick man from heart attack

Bruce Herman, at right, shakes hands with Fred Schemp while Evans Elementary teacher Bernie Pence stands nearby, at center. Pence and Schemp were honored at the elementary school, after both administered CPR to Herman after he suffered a heart attack which helped save his life. (John Strickler/21st Century Media)
Fred Schemp, left, and Evans Elementary School teacher Bernie Pence meet with Bruce Herman during the end of the year assembly at the school. Pence and Schemp were honored at the elementary school, after both administered CPR to Herman after he suffered a heart attack which helped save his life. (John Strickler/21st Century Media)

LIMERICK — Bruce Herman’s recovery from a near-fatal heart attack has been described as “miraculous.”

Given the events of Monday, May 19, it seems that some miracles simply begin with a few out-of-the-ordinary circumstances.

“It was like no one was supposed to be where they were that day,” said Bruce’s wife Lisa. “It’s like one of those scripted movies Bruce hates so much.”

* * *

Bernie Pence is a first grade teacher at Evans Elementary School who lives in the same neighborhood as the Hermans — Bradford Woods.

“There’s a lot of things that happened that morning that shouldn’t have happened,” Pence said.

Normally, her husband, David, takes their children to her sister-in-law’s house, but he was home and didn’t have to that morning.

Since he was home, they decided to treat themselves with Wawa, which meant Bernie was leaving her home 10 minutes earlier than usual.

Additionally, her car was parked on the driveway instead of the garage, which is also out of the ordinary for them.

“I think if the car was parked in the garage, I probably wouldn’t have seen him,” Bernie said.

Who she wouldn’t have seen was Bruce Herman.

Bruce was walking his pet, a Shih-Tzu named Max, around the neighborhood.

The night before, he’d mowed the lawn at his home and lifted weights. Lisa said he goes to the YMCA, has taken spin classes, and once participated in a mud run.

“He’s in good shape,” Lisa said.

Bruce had no heart issues before, but he was apparently feeling off even before the morning of May 19.

“I don’t remember that day (or) a day or two before,” he said. “I must’ve felt bad because I told my friend at work I wasn’t going to get in.”

The heart attack struck and literally floored Bruce.

“He had what they called a widow-maker,” Lisa said.

Bruce was lying on the ground, with Max sitting nearby, licking his face, when Bernie noticed him.

“I said, ‘Hey, buddy, are you okay?’” according to Bernie, with David at her side at the time. “He didn’t answer. We looked at each other and took off running.”

David immediately began to check Bruce’s airway and look for any signs of breathing. Bernie ran back across the street and got a neighbor to call 911, giving her own house as the address for emergency responders to come to. She put her second-grader, Keegan, in charge of directing those responders to them when they came.

David found no pulse on Bruce.

“He was breathing very, very sporadically,” Bernie said.

* * *

A lifeguard when she was younger, Bernie said she learned CPR then.

For a long time, Spring-Ford Area School District offered certification classes, Bernie said, so she got recertified every year.

She hasn’t had a recertification in five or six years, she estimates.

With Bruce lying on the ground, Bernie drew on the training she’d received in those classes, giving him CPR while waiting for emergency crews.

“In that moment, everything came right back,” Bernie said. “There was no hesitation. It still floors me that everything happened as it did.”

Bernie estimates she did CPR for five minutes until a police officer arrived. The officer took over briefly before he had Bernie begin again while he got the automatic external defibrillator (AED) from his car.

“He shocked him like five times,” Bernie said.

At some point, another neighbor, Fred Schemp, arrived and took over the CPR duties for Bernie. Eventually, there was a pulse.

Bernie said she checked with Bruce’s wife Lisa — who she didn’t know at the time — before going off to teach class.

* * *

For four days, Bruce was unconscious at Phoenixville Hospital. He was on a ventilator and the prognosis was not very good.

Lisa said there were concerns with how much oxygen was able to reach Bruce’s brain during the heart attack.

“We didn’t know,” Lisa said.

At school the morning of the incident, Bernie said she “was not mentally present.”

“Mentally, I was with the family although I didn’t know them,” Bernie said. “The kids didn’t know something happened but they knew I wasn’t feeling well. They were great that day.”

After several days of being unsure, Bruce woke up and displayed no lingering brain issues.

“They told me he was going to die,” Lisa said. “He went from dying and his organs failing (to that). He turned around pretty quickly.”

Bruce checked out of Phoenixville Hospital on May 28.

Lisa credited the actions of Bernie Pence and Fred Schemp with keeping oxygen flowing in her husband’s body, which likely fended off any brain damage.

“It’s not a recovery anyone expected,” Lisa said. “I think the doctors put ‘miraculous’ in his medical record. So we’ll take it.”

* * *

Bruce effectively met Bernie and Fred for the first time last week.

“That was very, very emotional,” Bernie said. “The first thing he said to me was, ‘Can I give you a hug?’”

After that, as a part of the Evans Elementary School year-end assembly, the three were brought together again. They were reunited to introduce the school’s theme for next year, “super heroes.”

“It will be nice to say, ‘thank you,’ again,” Bruce said the day before the assembly. “They’re basically heroes who saved my life.”

He also wanted to encourage everyone to learn CPR.

“It’s good to tell everyone how important that is,” Bruce said.

Bernie said the assembly was another emotional moment for her.

“There was absolute silence from the school. When (Bruce) was done speaking, everybody was cheering and gave a standing ovation,” Bernie said. “It was breathtaking. I can’t put it into words.”

More recovery is necessary as the extent of damage to Bruce’s heart isn’t fully known yet, but Lisa remains thankful for her neighbors’ role in her husband’s survival.

“It was because of them,” she said. “They didn’t hesitate to act.”