WILDWOOD, Mo. — At the Wildwood Family YMCA, they've been filling the swimming pool with happy tears.
That's because Jack Kirchener is doing laps again.
"I feel like a million bucks," Kirchener said.
Kirchener is a 61-year-old grandfather, retired home builder, and motocross enthusiast. He's also a survivor.
Twenty years ago he was struck by lightning and a few years after that, he had an unrelated heart surgery.
"I woke up from an exam," he recalled, "and the doctor is going like this (the OK sign). And I said, 'All is good?' He said 'No, that's how big the hole is in your heart.'"
But it turns out, those were just opening acts to the headliner he never wanted to be.
"What do you remember about that day?" we asked.
"I remember nothing," he said.
Last November, Jack was swimming laps until he wasn't. He went into sudden cardiac arrest.
"I was in my office, I just heard someone say grab the AED," remembered Tim Peters, the Wildwood Y's Executive Director.
An alert swimmer in the lane next to Jack and two YMCA lifeguards pulled him out of the water and immediately began life-saving procedures.
"All the staff have to be certified in basic life support. So first aid, as well as CPR and our AED," explained Peters.
An AED is an automated external defibrillator
Staffers called 911 and paramedics from Metro West Fire arrived just a short time later.
"As a firefighter paramedic, a lot of times we are called first responders but the true first responders are those bystanders that witness something and then make the decision to act," said Lt. Matt Copping of Metro West Fire.
Jack was rushed to the hospital where he spent the next nine days. And now a pacemaker is attached to Jack's grateful heart.
"Jack is alive today because of the team that responded to help him in the pool that day," Lt. Coppin said.
"It's overwhelming," said Kirchener through tears. "It's truly overwhelming"
Jack said when it comes to those lifeguards and the YMCA staff, he can never pay them back. So, he's paying it forward. He is now training to be a lifeguard.
"Just to hear that he wants to give back? I mean, there's nothing better," Peters said.
"I get emotional but I'm truly lucky to be alive," Kirchener said.
When things were falling apart, the YMCA staff came together. And now Jack Kirchener is joining that staff.
One man giving thanks by giving back.
"He'll be a perfect fit," Peters said.