Puyallup: Sumner

A bond galvanized through quick thinking

Cardiac arrest survivor Ron Malnar, left, takes a stroll in the same location where his friend and lifesaver Tim Thomsen performed CPR and summoned help for Malnar when he went into cardiac arrest after a five-mile run at Sunset Chev Stadium on September 10, 1994.
Cardiac arrest survivor Ron Malnar, left, takes a stroll in the same location where his friend and lifesaver Tim Thomsen performed CPR and summoned help for Malnar when he went into cardiac arrest after a five-mile run at Sunset Chev Stadium on September 10, 1994. Staff photographer

As then-59-year-old Ron Malnar was finishing his Saturday morning five-mile run around the Sunset Chevrolet Stadium track on Sept. 10, 1994, the Sumner resident went into sudden cardiac arrest.

Fortunately, Malnar wasn’t alone.

Tim Thomsen, a teacher and coach at Sumner High School at the time, was checking the then-grass field for divots following the previous night’s football game. As his and Malnar’s paths crossed and they began to chat, Malnar dropped to the ground.

“He dropped like a sack of potatoes,” Thomsen recalled. “We did CPR and kept him alive until the paramedics got there.”

“When I started talk to Tim, I felt nothing,” Malnar said. “I don’t remember anything.”

As Thomsen was performing CPR on Malnar, he was waving at passerbyes to call 911. Saving Malnar’s life quickly became a team effort. Paramedics arrived and shocked Malnar’s heart several times. He was rushed to Good Samaritan Hospital, and promptly had five-way open heart surgery.

Thomsen then made the dreaded call to Malnar’s wife, who went directly to the hospital to stay by her husband’s side.

Both Malnar and Thomsen agreed that had Malnar stopped running any later, or Thomsen finished any earlier, Malnar would have died on the track that September morning.

“Everything was absolutely in line (for my life to be saved),” Malnar said.

Thomsen, now the Sumner School District’s athletic director, said his years of training as an athlete, coach and a teacher paid off as he remained calm and knew the steps to increasing survival rate following a sudden cardiac arrest episode.

Malnar woke up in the hospital after his open heart surgery and immediately began to ask when he could get up and moving again.

“I started to ask when I would be able to start walking again,” he said. “Three or four weeks of recovery and I was back walking.”

Now, the 80-year-old walks every morning — rain or shine — at Sunset Chevrolet Stadium. He also strictly watches his diet, even chronicling his blood pressure readings daily in spiral-bound notebooks.

“I could go join a gym, but I really enjoy seeing the kids,” Malnar said.

Malnar and Thomsen had a strong relationship before Thomsen saved Malnar’s life. Thomsen had coached Malnar’s son and daughter in sports, and the two became friends.

“I count my blessings every day, that I was able to keep him alive,” Thomsen said.

After watching his dear friend nearly die of sudden cardiac arrest, Thomsen has worked hard to ensure automated external defibrillators (AEDs) are in Sumner schools and sports facilities throughout the district, and that coaches are trained on how to respond to a sudden cardiac episode.

“The more people that are trained, the more people we can keep alive,” Thomsen said. “When Ron had his episode, we made the percentages work in our favor.”

“We’re making progress,” Malnar said. “Even if you save one life, it makes a difference.”

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