May 30, 2024

ANN ARBOR, MI – Tens of thousands of fans poured onto the field at Michigan Stadium when the Wolverines’ beat rival Ohio State on Nov. 25.

Photographer Aaron Josefczyk, a freelance photographer from Cleveland, escaped the masses by filing his photos until the crowd dispersed. Thirty minutes later, he walked down the stadium tunnel to retrieve a lens.

He snapped a photo, and then a pain hit the middle of his chest. Short of breath and hot all over, he made his way up the tunnel hill to alert two police officers of his condition.

Paramedics soon confirmed Josefczyk was having a heart attack. Three weeks later, he’s recovering in his Ohio home thanks to the care of stadium medical staff and Michigan Medicine.

“I would not have wanted to be anywhere else,” Josefczyk said, looking back on his cardiological ordeal. “Michigan saved my life.”

The 54-year-old grew up in a Buckeye household and graduated from Ohio State with a photography degree. He’s living his dream of getting paid to cover sports, from every Ohio State football home game to Cleveland’s professional teams.

“If I could do this and have a great seat at a game and get paid, that would be the ultimate way to do things,” he said.

When paramedics told Josefczyk he was having a heart attack, he didn’t believe them at first.

“I remember telling the guy if I could burp, I would feel better,” he said about the pressure on his chest.

Josefczyk is in good physical shape, he said, adding to his disbelief. But that’s not always a good indicator, said Dr. Mark Lowell, medical director at Michigan Stadium, whose team responded to Josefczyk.

“The only thing that contributes to your risk factors for coronary disease are things you can’t see, like cholesterol levels, family history, genetic predisposition to things like that,” Lowell said. “It can essentially happen anybody.”

Josefczyk was taken to the stadium’s medical station, which serves the more than 100,000 fans who attend games in The Big House on fall Saturdays. The medical station conducted an EKG and coordinated transportation and care to the University of Michigan Health Frankel Cardiovascular Center.

Lowell’s team alerted the hospital that Josefczyk would need catheterization to open blood flow to the heart. Timely transportation limits the amount of muscle degradation in the heart, Lowell said, and ambulance drivers had to weave through gameday congestion to ensure that timely care.

“Time is muscle,” Lowell said.

Josefczyk, who was out during his ambulance ride, awoke to find his care team at the hospital. One of his physicians was Dr. Michelle Feeney, an emergency medicine resident and, coincidentally, a 2020 Ohio State graduate.

When physicians saw his Buckeye shirt underneath his work attire, Feeney showed Josefczyk her “Block O” pin, he said.

“I had an Ohio State shirt on, and I was laying there and I’m like, ‘God, I’m gonna die here with this shirt on,’” he said. “But she leaned down and said, ‘I got your back.’”

Cardiologists found there was a 90% blockage in Josefczyk’s right coronary artery, he said. Under the care of cardiologists Drs. Michael Grossman and Rayan Rachwan, a catheter was threaded from his wrist to the artery to clear the blockage and place two stents to keep the vessel open.

“The immediate recognition of a medical emergency at The Big House and rapid transport to the emergency department allowed us to expedite care and get the blocked vessel open quickly,” Grossman said.

Josefczyk said he felt calm throughout the process due to the decisiveness and confidence of his whole care team, from the cops he first alerted to Lowell’s emergency responders to Grossman’s cardiologists.

“They knew exactly what was wrong with me and what they had to do and how quickly they had to do it,” Josefczyk said.

Four days later, Josefczyk left the hospital to return home to Ohio. He’s focused on his nutrition the last few weeks, such as cutting out the fast food he would eat while driving back from a photo assignment.

He also feels the love of hundreds of family members and friends on social media and over the phone. Some even are following his lead on improving their own health, he said.

“It’s been cool seeing this have an impact on people,” he said.

Some people have asked him if this experience changes his perspective on Michigan football. He shrugs at the question, as his job as a photographer is to detach himself from the fandom aspect of sports.

However, Joseczyk will always be thankful to the staff at Michigan Medicine.

“They knew what to do, followed all their protocol and got me back home,” he said.

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