Clifton man says ‘no’ to Grim Reaper
CLIFTON — “He died in my arms.”
Kim Hoffner recently made this remark while sitting across from her husband, Chris Hoffner, in the living room of their Clifton home. The fact they were together is something some might call a miracle.
At the April 1 Kankakee City Council meeting, a presentation was given to a group of first responders for their life-saving efforts on the behalf of 50-year-old Chris Hoffner.
“A few days before all this stuff happened, I was hanging drywall and doing a bunch of construction. I carried 18 sheets of drywall in the house by myself,” Chris said. On Dec. 5, Chris experienced a heart attack at work out of the blue.
Chris has a family history of heart problems, and Kim, now 46, lost her father at a young age to a heart attack.
“He’s been pretty vigilant the last few years about getting checked out by a doctor every year,” Kim said. “He just had an echo cardiogram seven months before this happened, and everything was fine.”
No blocked arteries. No problems with his lungs. Although Chris was doing work on his home in the days leading to his heart attack, he and his wife still aren’t 100 percent sure what brought it on.
“We both work in the same building. I saw him 10 minutes before this happened, and he never said anything about not feeling well,” Both Chris and Kim work at Shapiro Developmental Center in Kankakee.
“Luckily, a good friend of mine at work saw me looking a little weird,” Chris said.
Chris told his co-worker he felt faint, just before he fell to the ground.
“After that, I don’t remember a whole lot.”
“Someone came and got me, and told me something was wrong with him; and by the time I got upstairs, he already started to turn colors,” Kim said. “At first, it looked like he was having a seizure, but now, looking back, it was his brain starving for oxygen.”
Chris didn’t have a clean flow of oxygen to his brain until he was intubated at AMITA Health St. Mary’s Hospital.
Anywhere from 18 to 30 minutes, Chris was without oxygen flow to his brain. Not only that — but he was without vital signs.
“I didn’t want to lose him,” Kim recalled through tears. “At work, we’re all trained in CPR, so I knew to check for a pulse, and my mind was trying to get it together, but I was shaking so horribly. My mind was trying to get it together, but my body wouldn’t. All I could do was hold him and cradle him in my arms while the paramedics worked on him.”
During that time, the whole Shapiro facility shut down, knowing that one of their beloved, daily faces was in trouble.
“We know mostly everyone that’s there,” Chris said.
From St. Mary’s in Kankakee, Chris was airlifted to the University of Chicago. After his stay there, he was then taken to the RML Specialty Hospital, and his last stop before coming home was the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab for physical therapy.
“I never want to go back to the city again,” Kim said. “The sounds of the sirens just remind me that someone is having the worst day of their life.”
It could take up to two years for Chris to make a full recovery, but he’s already shown great improvement. One doctor at the University of Chicago stated that Chris would become a “vegetable” in a nursing home, likely to die within a year. But Kim refused to give up on her husband.
Things that Chris does for himself now, he wasn’t able to do just one month ago.
“Two months ago, I was giving him a complete bed bath,” Kim said. Now, Chris is able to take his own shower, pick out his clothes, get dressed and other small chores that he did before.
Currently, Chris’ heart is back to the original strength that it was at before his heart attack.
During Chris’ two medically-induced comas, Kim never left his side, even when family and friends offered to give her a break from staying at the University of Chicago, she remained at her husband’s bedside for two months.
While at his bedside, Kim did everything for her husband from singing and talking to him (including reciting their wedding vows), to bed baths, to even blinking her husband’s eyes for him.
“When he started showing signs of movement and opened his eyes, he wouldn’t blink. He’d just stare. So, I blinked his eyes for him so they wouldn’t dry out,” Kim said.
Kim blinked her husband’s eyes most of the day, giving herself a couple hours of rest at night, before waking up and doing it all over again the next day.
After a miraculous improvement, Chris was released to go home Feb. 12.
“He felt bad that he couldn’t get me anything for Valentine’s Day,” Kim said. “I told him, you don’t owe me anything — ever. I have you. As long as I can hug him, kiss him and tell him goodnight and good morning, that’s all I need.”
Chris and Kim have been married for 18 years.
“It’s been the two of us against the world,” Kim said. They have three children and four grandchildren.
Since Chris returned home, Josie, the Hoffman’s German shepherd, has been struggling knowing something is off with her best friend.
“She’s a mess right now,” Kim said. “They’re inseparable, so through him being in the hospital, she developed medical issues with her skin from her nerves and not knowing what was going on.”
“We have our retirement to look forward to in 10 years. We’re trying to fix the house up so we can sell it and move to Florida,” Kim said. “We just want to get back to normal life,” Chris said.
Even though the Hoffners live right across the street from a church, they’ve never considered themselves to be religious. Now, they’re thinking about joining a church after witnessing such a miracle.
“When he was in the hospital, even if I never left the room that day to take a shower or go get something to eat, I would make sure to get to the chapel to thank (God), and run back to the room,” Kim recalled.
With Chris’ new lease on life, Kim is seeing a different side of him.
“He truly has a more appreciative outlook on life,” Kim said. “Now he’s so understanding and affectionate. After what he’s been through, it’s hard to get down.”
“If it wasn’t for the first responders, I wouldn’t be here right now,” Chris said.
“From the dispatchers, all the way to the emergency room — they really did what they were supposed to do that day,” Kim said.
“I think everybody was designed to be exactly where they were supposed to be that day. We’re so grateful for everything they did.”