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A father's cardiac arrest sets career path for Woodbury teen

A lot of "what ifs" go through Anna Craig's mind when she thinks of her dad's heart attack that happened 10 years ago.

Though she was only 6 years old at the time, she vividly remembers medical tools and equipment lying all over her house when she got home from school that day.

"I remember my sister telling me my dad had a heart attack and we couldn't see him that night," she said.

The now 17-year-old high school senior is grateful for what two Woodbury police officers/paramedics did to revive her father from cardiac arrest.

Not only did she seek them out, but her appreciation for officers Curt Zacharias and Ritch Schmitt - who's now retired - prompted her decision to pursue a career in law enforcement.

She decided to enroll in the Northeast Metro 916 Intermediate School District law enforcement and criminal justice program this year.

"You can make a difference in someone's life and they won't forget about it," Anna Craig said. "And you'll have a job where people would be thankful for what you do."

When Anna told her teacher, Mary McGuire, that she would like to dig up information on the officers who helped her father, the teacher arranged for a surprise meeting.

Last Tuesday morning, Woodbury Public Safety Deputy Director and Fire Chief Todd Johnson was already scheduled to speak to McGuire's students. But instead of having it be an ordinary class, the day turned into something more.

Johnson brought Zacharias to surprise Anna, who had wanted to meet him to thank him for saving her family, McGuire said.

"It's pretty touching to know that Anna has hung on to these feelings for this long," she added.

The two hugged and smiled. Anna was finally able to thank one of the men who ultimately set a career path for her.

"I had a little part in helping to resuscitate and save (Anna's father) so he could be around ... that leaves you with a good, fulfilling feeling," Zacharias said.

Anna said she felt the need to thank the officers because many police officer/paramedics don't get thanked enough for what they do - especially by teenagers.

"It was great that he came. I'm glad that he's worked his way to be a sergeant," Anna said. "I was bummed that (Schmitt) couldn't come."

In his 21 years with the department, Zacharias said he's never seen someone thank him the way Anna did.

"Especially now as a young adult, for her to reach out as a thank you, I've never experienced that before," he added.

Anna is not the only one who has distinct memories of the February day when her father, John, had the heart attack.

"One of the things that still stuck out to me 10 years later was the timing of it," Zacharias said.

John was feeling ill that morning and went home early from work, Zacharias added. When he got home, he started feeling pain in his chest and arm. He called his doctor who told him to call 911.

A few minutes from Zacharias and Schmitt's arrival, John went into cardiac arrest.

If they had gotten there just a couple of minutes later, "obviously the outcome would've been much different," Zacharias said.

During the year that John went into cardiac arrest, Woodbury officers saw four similar incidents.

The Craig family was featured in the April 2001 city newsletter. Additionally, John was one of the five survivors who were part of a video the Woodbury Public Safety Department shot a few years ago to tell their stories.

"We've maintained a survival rate that's been greater than 50 percent," Johnson said, adding, "the national average is only in the single percentage."

He credited that to the fact that many Woodbury police officers are trained paramedics and can be anywhere at any time someone is in cardiac arrest. The close proximity alone can be life-saving.

"When you have a medical problem, chances are we're only a few minutes away," Johnson said.

Anna is already training to get her CPR certification and will continue down the law enforcement path after graduating from Tartan High School this year.

A decade passed and a lot happened in Anna's life that she's grateful her father was able to experience.

"If they weren't EMTs, he probably would've been dead ... wouldn't have been able to see me graduate. I have a baby; he wouldn't have been a grandpa," she said.

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.