Syracuse couple helps save Buffalo Marathon runner’s life

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)- When runners took off at the Buffalo Marathon at 6:30 a.m., it was already 70 degrees. Shellie Rizza and her husband, Phil, were cheering on runners around mile 18.

They were about to head to the finish line to watch their friends complete the race when they saw a runner in his late 20’s starting to slow down.

“He started falling, flat, arms at his side, last thing that he hit was his chin,” said Phil Rizza.

They jumped into action.

“Something took over, I yelled out,” said Shellie Rizza. “There’s a water stop right up there and I just yelled up there ‘We need a medic!’ and I went across the street.”

Her husband kneeled down next to the man.

“He’s not responding,” described Phil Rizza. “His eyes are open but he’s not breathing and I started to try to feel a pulse on his neck and at the same time I’m pulling my phone out I’m going to call 911.”

Shellie Rizza happens to be an ICU nurse practitioner and her husband Phil is trained in CPR. Shellie started doing compressions while her husband held his mouth open to secure an airway.

Other people started gathering to help.

“A dozen, at least, runners stopped running and said ‘Do you guys need help? I’m trained in CPR’ or ‘Do you guys need help? Do you need me to call someone?’” said Phil Rizza. “Mile 18 in your marathon, it’s a big sacrifice when you’re willing to just stop.”

Two other people helped give CPR and the runner began to have a pulse again.

Finally an ambulance arrived with an emergency room doctor who used an automatic external defibrillator and was able to get the man’s heart to beat again.

He was taken to the hospital.

“We get his heart back but is he going to wake up?” said Shellie Rizza. “His brain, you know he had oxygen through CPR but anyone who is not getting blood in the most efficient way, which is the heart, can have neurological compromise.”

Hours later the Rizza’s got a call the runner was awake and alert.

“I can’t even tell you what that feeling is like, I couldn’t breathe, I was just crying,” said Shellie Rizza.

News 4 talked to the runner on Wednesday and he said that was his ninth marathon and once he recovers he plans to keep running.

He thanks the Rizza’s for making that possible

Shellie and Phil Rizza didn’t plan on being at the Buffalo Marathon. Shellie Rizza was supposed to be in Vermont running the Burlington Marathon that day. An injury forced her to change her plans, placing them at Delaware Park at the perfect time. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review. Note: Comments containing links are not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s