I almost died…
First Posted: 1/19/2015
Tears swelled the eyes of Cindy Kraintz from Sweet Valley at the thought of not being alive to watch her oldest son, Tommy, grow up.
The 32-year-old mother of two flat-lined during premature child labor with her firstborn during an emergency cesarean that caused excessive bleeding; her blood was unable to clot from a severe form of preeclampsia.
As a tear slowly dripped down her face, her youngest son, Caleb, quickly ran to her with an announcement.
“Mommy, I have diarrhea, but I wiped really, really good,” Caleb shared.
Kraintz laughed, wiped her tears and said she was embarrassed at his exclamation, but wouldn’t have it any other way.
“That’s what happens when you have kids. Had I died, I never would have had my second son. I never would have been able to watch my first son grow up. I’m incredibly grateful, and I don’t take a moment of it for granted,” Kraintz said.
Sometimes it takes almost losing your life to fully appreciate it Kraintz said.
In life, we’re always planning for tomorrow as if it’s promised.
But it’s not.
Three people who shared their stories of how they almost died know that all too well.
Weekender spoke with a woman who flat-lined, a guy who was run over with a car by his twin brother, and someone who put a fully-loaded gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
Theoretically, all of them should be dead. Somehow, they’re alive.
Here are there stories.
THE IMPOSSIBLE CHOICE
In 2006, Kraintz was a young newlywed expecting her first child with her husband, Josh.
“We were shocked when I found out I was pregnant. We weren’t expecting a child at that point in our lives. I was 23 and working part-time as a hair dresser at Vintage Salon in Wilkes-Barre and my husband was in the process of trying to open a bar. It was a hard time to have a child because we were a young couple just starting out and not settled yet, but we were excited nonetheless to start our family,” Kraintz said.
The pregnancy was normal at first, she said. Her legs started to swell to the point where her shoes didn’t fit, but her doctor told her to not be alarmed.
“The doctor told me it was normal water weight from standing on my feet working all day as a hair dresser,” Kraintz said.
Unbeknownst to Cindy, she was experiencing symptoms of a severe form of preeclampsia known as HELLP syndrome, a life-threatening obstetric complication that stands for its symptoms: hemolysis — the breaking down of red blood cells, elevated liver enzymes, and a low platelet count.
When Cindy was 26 weeks pregnant, she went to the doctor because her legs were pitting edema.
“You could stick your finger in my leg and leave an indent from how much fluid was in there,” Kraintz said.
She was admitted to Wilkes-Barre General Hospital, where the expecting mother was evaluated for 24 hours.
“I was diagnosed with preeclampsia and told my baby was going to be born early, but they didn’t know how early,” Kraintz said.
What happened next is something nobody saw coming.
“My body started shutting down while I was in the hospital under evaluation. The doctors in Wilkes-Barre said they were not equipped to take care of me, so they life-flighted me to Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown,” Kraintz said.
Her condition worsened and doctors had to induce labor.
“I was exactly 27-weeks pregnant when the doctors induced my labor. My baby was about to be born 13 weeks prematurely. My life was at risk, but I was only concerned about my baby. I knew I had to stay alive to deliver my baby. I had to hold on for my baby,” Kraintz said.
After 22 hours of labor, doctors performed an emergency cesarean to save the baby. Josh was approached with a heartbreaking ultimatum.
“A c-section was very dangerous because, with HELLP syndrome, my blood wasn’t clotting. A c-section posed a high risk that I would bleed to death. My husband was told that I was so sick that he needed to make a choice of who he wanted to be saved if it came down to that — me or the baby — because they wouldn’t be able to save both. He chose the baby. He did the right thing. He knew that’s what I would have wanted,” Kraintz said.
Josh is still haunted by getting hit with that ultimatum.
“I felt completely helpless. I went from having a seemingly perfectly healthy wife and baby 72 hours earlier to being told if we don’t deliver the baby right now, both of them will die. How can one choose between the life of your own child and your wife? It was an impossible decision and such a chaotic moment, but it really came down to what she wanted,” he said.
Once the baby was delivered, Cindy had a moment to look at her son. She knew he was safe and she knew it was alright to let go, she said.
Then she collapsed and her heart stopped beating.
A TWIN’S WORST NIGHTMARE
John and Mike McDermott of Throop are not only twins, they’re best friends.
The 22-year-old brothers confide in each other, work on cars together and get rowdy together.
“Growing up, we fucked around doing dangerous things all the time for fun,” Mike said.
When a snowstorm hit the area in December 2013, the McDermott brothers weren’t going to let it get in their way of having a good time.
“A group of friends and I were driving around in the snow and I decided to snowboard in the parking lot of the Giant food market in Dickson City. My brother had the back passenger window down and I hung on. He was driving and I was snowboarding. We were just goofing off and having a good time,” John said.
While making a turn, Mike ran over what he thought was a curb.
Instead, he accidentally ran over his twin brother from head-to-toe.
“When I looked back, I saw John try to stand up. He got about halfway up and then he dropped to the ground and took a seizure. I was like holy fuck,” Mike said.
As John’s unconscious body was transported to Community Medical Center in Scranton, Mike was handcuffed and taken to the Dickson City Police Department.
“The cops were interrogating me and telling me that I better hope my brother doesn’t die or I’ll get charged with manslaughter. I thought I was going to jail for the rest of my life. I couldn’t even process what had just happened. One minute I was having a fun time with my friends and my brother, the next I was crying and praying in the back seat of a cop car. I had no idea if my brother was going to survive,” Mike said.
1 IN 300,000
Joe Milo of Jessup was only 18 years old when he lost his grandmother and brother within four months of each other.
“My grandmother and my brother were the two closest people in my life and when they were gone it devastated me. I didn’t have anybody to talk to about it. My parents were always too busy working and they didn’t really seem to care too much about what was going on with me and my little sister,” Milo said.
His father is a detective for the Lackawanna County District Attorney’s Office, and his mother owns a gymnastics studio in Scranton.
“My parents didn’t really get along and I didn’t want to put any more stress on them by telling them how I was feeling about losing my grandmother and brother. So I turned to drugs to self-medicate. For the first year, I felt happy all the time,” Milo said.
As his drug use progressed, so did his tolerance.
“With a higher tolerance, I needed more drugs to feel good. It got to the point where I had to take some form of pain medication just to get out of bed,” Milo said.
Milo distanced himself from his family and even started selling marijuana to support the habit that helped him stay numb to the pain.
“I started selling weed here and there and then I started transporting supply for a dealer out of Philly. There was a lot of demand for it in Northeast PA. I was making up to $2,000 a week, at least,” Milo said.
The drugs and money ceased to fill his void. He wanted to die, but was too afraid to commit suicide.
When his dealer graduated from Temple University, Milo was told that his dealer’s drug dealer wanted Milo to sell for him.
“My dealer took me to meet his dealer to sell for him. We went to an area where the street lights were shot out. We walked up to a dilapidated house that looked like it was worth no more than $15,000 and there was an $80,000 Escalade sitting out front,” Milo said.
Milo received an unusual greeting.
“Once I was greeted with a gun to my chest it was a total game-changer. I knew I wasn’t dealing with small-town boys who wanted to sell weed. Instead of buying from a clean-cut Temple student, I was now dealing directly with one of the biggest drug dealers in South Philly. I was actually dealing with people who would kill me if I crossed them,” Milo said.
Milo started a cycle of going back and forth to one of the most dangerous parts of Philadelphia, now moving at least $1,500 worth of drugs every three to four days; well aware of the dangers.
“I knew the risk of getting killed was there, but I wasn’t afraid. I was just afraid to do it myself. I had a death wish. I did everything to the extreme, whether it be going fast in my car or on my bike. I always did everything to the extreme hoping that if something happened, that it would be an accident and that people wouldn’t look down on me or my family for committing suicide,” Milo said.
Still, Milo said he kept a 45-caliber handgun on him. Could he ever end the depression affecting his life for four years?
“The dealer I was selling for told me that people would start noticing a clean-cut white kid with a backpack coming to the ghetto of Philly every few days. Eventually they noticed. I went down one day and I was hit in the back of the head with a two-by-four. They ripped my backpack. I got scared and started to shoot. They got scared and ran. I got scared and ran. My dealer called me and told me that I shouldn’t come there anymore because next time I might not get beat up and have my things stolen; the next time I might get killed,” Milo said.
That was the last time he went there.
After getting beat up, and losing his supply source and means to fund his drug habit, Milo was more depressed than ever.
“I was sitting in my apartment by myself and I used one of my last bits of supply and got a little high and out of nowhere I got this impulse to finally kill myself. I reached under my coffee table and got my handgun and I put it in my mouth. I was thinking this is it. Now I get to find out what finally happens when you leave this life. I remember thinking whatever happens, hopefully the pain is gone and hopefully I will feel relief from the anxiety and anguish that I had felt for so many years from the loss of my grandmother and brother,” Milo said.
Then he pulled the trigger.
LIFE AFTER NEAR-DEATH
While most people’s stories would end after their heart stopped beating, they were run over by a car and left unconscious or when they put a gun in their mouth and pulled a trigger, the stories of Cindy Kraintz, John McDermott and Joe Milo just got started.
It took doctors 45 minutes to revive Cindy to a stable condition and save her life. While she went on to physically heal quickly, it was a process to move forward emotionally. Cindy’s premature baby spent three months in the hospital before he was allowed to come home, where he spent the first year of his life on oxygen. The premature labor didn’t kill Cindy or her baby, but it did kill her marriage.
According to Josh Kraintz, the trauma from the situation put a divide in their marriage.
“There’s a lot that happens with a couple when they experience a traumatic situation. We both handled the chaos and the feelings differently. It divided us. I internalized my feelings because I felt I had to be strong for my wife. I felt like I couldn’t show weakness and show that I was hurt from the situation, too. I still needed someone that I could be vulnerable to and I cheated on my wife for that reason,” Josh said.
Cindy and Josh are now divorced.
When asked if they thought they might still be married had the situation never happened, both said that it was a possibility.
Today, Cindy is studying to be a nurse and hopes to provide the care and assistance for families with a premature child.
When John McDermott was taken to the hospital, he was placed in a drug-induced coma to help heal the internal bleeding around the lining of his brain from his severe head trauma.
His twin brother Mike was detained at the police station for two hours before police released him. Mike then went to his brother’s side, hoping John would wake up.
Three days later, John did.
“I now feel like I have a purpose. I don’t exactly know what that purpose is yet, but I could have died, and that right there tells me that I have a purpose to be here and I look forward to finding out what that is. The whole experience also changed my perspective on life. I no longer let the little shit get to me. I now know what a life-or-death situation really is,” John said.
Both John and Mike said the experience has brought them closer together.
As for Joe Milo, when he pulled the trigger, the gun misfired.
“I threw the gun across the room and just sat there for hours in tears. I couldn’t believe what happened. I read somewhere that the odds of a gun misfiring from a faulty round of ammunition is like one in 300,000. I didn’t understand why I was that one in 300,000,” Milo said.
On August 22, 2012, Milo was set up by a confidential informant and got caught selling drugs.
Milo said he believes he was meant to be alive to be caught the next week, an incident that set him on a journey to cleaning up his act. He no longer self-medicates or sells drugs.
Milo said he believes his purpose is to help people struggling with depression or addiction and to educate people who are ignorant to it by serving as an example that people who battle those diseases can be decent people.
Though their perspectives on life may be different, Cindy Kraintz, John McDermott and Joe Milo have something in common. Flirting with death inspired them to stop existing and start living.