Two great miracles happened at Michigan Stadium’s first night game.
After exhausting several anecdotes from my Jewish Ann Arbor playbook, I thought my days covering Michigan football for JTA were done. Then I noticed this comment from Archive Blog reader Richard Lezell:
As an interesting PS, Marvin Sonne, a member of Temple Israel, West Bloomfield, saved the life of a Notre Dame fan about the time the Rabbi arrived at the game. By using CPR he was able to maintain him until the paramedics arrived. There is now a new Michigan fan.
Dr. Marvin Sonne (pronounced "sunny") was introduced to Michigan football in 1969, the same year revered coach Bo Schembechler took charge of the program. After graduating Michigan dental school in ’73, he embarked on a two-year stint in the Navy. A member of Temple Israel in West Bloomfield and local chapter president of the Jewish dental fraternity Alpha Omega, the Trenton, M.I. resident figures he’s been a Michigan season ticket holder for thirty years.
But two weeks ago on a Saturday night, Sonne’s most memorable moment at Michigan Stadium happened not on the field, but in the bleachers.
"We were in section six, row 59," recounted Sonne about his first game of season, the Wolverines’ second. "There was a man sitting with his three sons directly behind my son and me."
That man was Leo Staudacher a 69 year-old resident of Bay City and the middle of five Notre Dame-rooting generations in his family. To celebrate his 51st wedding anniversary, Staudacher brought his three grown sons (sans wife, Marge) to the game. Before kick-off, Sonne asked one of Staudacher boys to snap a photo of him and his son, Jeff (above). While grateful for the favor, Sonne soon grew irritated with the row behind him.
"During the game, the sons were bad-mouthing Michigan – there was a lot of smack talk," recalled Sonne. "It was very disconcerting and upsetting. I was going to say something, but my son told me not to."
In the second quarter, the elder Staudacher suffered a heart attack, collapsing directly on top of Sonne and son. Instinctively, the dentist sprang into action, laying Staudacher down on his back atop the bench.
"I gave him a couple of rescue breaths and my son and I ripped open his shirt while emergency personnel made their way over with a defibrillator," recalled Sonne. Other fans came to Staudbacher’s aid, too.
Amazingly, Staudacher pulled through. According to local and national news reports, he surreptitiously turned on the TV and watched the closing seconds of the game from his hospital bed. Fortunately, the newly-minted heart attack survivor was unaffected by the exciting final play that sealed the Fighting Irish loss.
Sonne is modest about his role in this life-saving event. He administered CPR once thirty some odd years ago, but wasn’t able to keep in touch. "I’m quite positive the gentleman passed away," he said matter-of-factly."In this case, the defibrillator was a defining moment."
But there were other remarkable elements that characterized this resuscitation. "This past year, I actually changed my seats from section 18 to section six," said Sonne. "[The Saturday night game] was the first time I sat there.
"The more I think about it, it’s a miracle that it worked; maybe 10% of people survive in this case,” he estimated. “God was watching out, I guess."
A few days later, Detroit NBC-affiliate WDIV arranged for a meeting between Sonne and Staudacher’s family, where they laughed off the relative insignificance of the game.
Although he wouldn’t categorize the life-saving effort as a spiritual experience, per se, he’s appreciated the opportunity to form a bond with his new friends.
And while Sonne has mostly dedicated his fifteen minutes of fame to urge people to learn CPR, he has sprinkled other lessons learned with Jewish wisdom. “I explained the phrase tikkun olam, saving the world one person at a time,” said Sonne to a reporter. “We saved somebody, and when you save one, you save the world. From that perspective, fate or something brought us together out of 114,000 people [who attended the game], and now our lives are entwined together.”
The following Shabbat, Sonne offered a misheberach (prayer for health) for Leo Staudacher at his synagogue and will continue to keep him in mind.
"This Rosh Hashanah, I’ll be reciting the blessings before haftorah at Temple Israel," said Sonne. "It will be a lot more meaningful knowing Leo was inscribed in Book of Life."
Archive notes: Twenty years ago, Magen David Adom resuscitated 10 heart attack victims on Yom Kippur … While coaching the City College football team, former Michigan quarterback and captain Benny Friedman endured the tragic loss of junior substitute halfback Aaron Greenwald, who succumbed to pnemonia resulting from injuries sustained in a game against NYU … The Jewish dental fraternity Alpha Omega helped fundraise for the Hebrew University-Hadassah medical school’s dental school in 1953