Four staffers at the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium who helped save a man who had a heart attack at the zoo last month were honored Wednesday for their efforts.

At midday May 7, Paul Kozak, a 76-year-old retired postal worker and Air Force veteran, collapsed near the Skyfari chairlift station adjacent to the zoo’s African Grasslands. A woman who was nearby caught Kozak as he fell, and guest services supervisor Jared Bohnenkamp immediately began CPR.

“That was the most essential thing to be done first,” said Kozak, a father of four who lives in La Vista. “If I was to have a heart attack, this was a great place to have it.”

After Kozak fell, EMT and aquarist Kevin Juszyk was called to respond. He fetched a defibrillator, cleared the scene and shocked Kozak. Less than a minute later, the Omaha Fire Department arrived and took over.

“That person was in very good condition prior to leaving this facility, which is extremely rare and extremely good,” Omaha Fire Battalion Chief Robb Gottsch told a crowd at the zoo Wednesday. “We give recognition to our own team for that type of work.”

Kozak was taken to the Nebraska Medical Center, where he underwent triple bypass surgery. He was released six days later and spent a couple of days doing rehab before returning home. On Wednesday, at the zoo’s safety meeting in an auditorium inside the Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom Pavilion, the Omaha Fire Department recognized four people for what they did to help save Kozak’s life.

Bohnenkamp and Juszyk were joined by guest services supervisor and EMT Tony Vitelli and on-site nurse Lynette Mullins, who works for Children’s Hospital & Medical Center. The four had not formally met Kozak until Wednesday.

“It’s a super-great feeling,” Juszyk said. “To be able to have that full-circle experience is awesome.”

Kozak teared up when talking about the experience. He said he was more emotional than usual for several weeks after his heart attack.

Kozak, a mentor in the TeamMates program, had been at the zoo with a mentee that day, and he hasn’t been able to visit the youth since his heart attack.

After the ceremony, Kozak met with firefighters and zoo staff to thank them. As Juszyk shook Kozak’s hand, he invited him to come back soon to visit the zoo. Kozak said he plans to return next week with his son.

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