CHICAGO — Their call is familiar from the stands at Wrigley Field, but one beer man’s cry recently was a plea for help after he had a massive heart attack. After nearly losing his life, a former comrade-in-cans helped him get back to work.
For 15 years, Eddie Rajczyk has been keeping the fans at Wrigley in good spirits, although the ballpark has been a second home for a lot longer.
“Me and my two brothers, we used to live in the bleachers. Every once in a while, we’d get lucky and afford a seat,” Rajczyk said. “This is the second greatest job in the world. The first would be playing for the Cubs out there on the field.”
But everything nearly ended for Rajczyk as the season started in April. After going to the gym in the morning, he called his brother to let him know he was having chest pains and feeling a tingling in his left arm. While he had every intention of driving himself to the hospital, Rajczyk says he went straight towards a local fire department.
“It was a straight line from the gym to one of the two Skokie fire departments, and I guess I realized I wasn’t going to make it to the hospital,” Eddie said.
Somehow, he made it inside the police station, where an officer grabbed an AED and shocked Eddie’s heart. It wasn’t the first time he was brought back to life that day.
“I flatlined at the police station, and then apparently in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, and a couple times over the course of that day,” Eddie said. “The attending ER physician had told my mom and my two brothers and my sister-in-law that they should start making funeral plans because I wasn’t going to last the night.”
Rajczyk was quickly taken to the Cardiac Cath Lab at Evanston Hospital, where doctors found multiple blockages, including one that nearly killed him. Once the main blockage was opened and blood flow restored, Eddie was sedated until he stabilized.
“This happened on a Wednesday morning. Next thing I remember is waking up on a Sunday afternoon. Everything they did obviously worked out because I walked out of the hospital eight days later,” Eddie said.
By July, and about halfway through his cardiac rehab, Eddie felt well enough to get back in the beer vending game. He was offered lighter duty on his return, but the dedicated vendor said he wanted to stick with being a beer man in the stands. Still, his future as a suds salesman was likely to come to an end without a doctor’s approval.
As he discussed going back to work with his cardiologist, Dr. Robert Gordan, he realized a surprising fact: they both had worked as beer vendors at Wrigley Field. So when he cleared him to go back to work, he knew “better than anybody” what the job required, Rajczyk said.
“That is a hard job, so for all the people out there having their vendors in general, make sure you tip them,” Dr. Gordon said. “Literally he died. The fact that he’s selling beer right now is amazing, just amazing.”
Back at Wrigley Field, and with 30 pounds of beer strapped to his body, Eddie took it a step at a time.
“I didn’t know if I was going to take two steps and clutch my chest and fall over. This was taking my rehab to the next step, literally,'” Eddie said. “I look at it and say, well, I’m still here.”