Health & Wellness

Roxbury Councilman Undaunted by Close Brush with Death

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Roxbury Councilman Richard Zoschak, center, at a council meeting
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Roxbury Councilman Richard Zoschak Credits: Roxbury Township
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Richard Zoschak and challenger Heather Champaigne on election night 2015
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ROXBURY, NJ – Having survived a near-death experience in January, Roxbury Councilman Richard Zoschak is thanking friends and constituents for their prayers and is looking forward to returning to council meetings.

Zoschak and his wife, Diana, were at their St. Thomas vacation home in early January when the close call took place. He said his spouse went out for a bit and found him unconscious when she returned.

Zoschak, a childhood polio victim, lacks full lung capacity. His lungs retain too much carbon dioxide, a problem alleviated through the occasional use of a portable oxygen concentrator  that he carries.

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Zoschak doesn’t know what happened that day in St. Thomas; he said he just passed out. “We flew out of here on Jan. 9,” he said. “About a week later, my wife found me unconscious.”

Zoschak said he was resuscitated at the emergency room of a hospital in St. Thomas but was then flown back to New Jersey because the island hospital does not have pulmonologists or cardiologists. The Zoshaks' annual St. Thomas winter vacation ended with a turbulent flight to Newark and an ambulance ride to Morristown Memorial Hospital.

“They had to medivac me out,” said Zoschak, who is a member of an emergency medical air flight club. “If I didn’t have that, I’d probably be a dead man … My CO2 level was close to 200. My pulmonologist said he’d seen that level only in a dead person. It’s a miracle I’m here.”

Zoschak said he spent a week in an intensive care unit, a stay that included the insertion of a tracheal tube attached to a respirator. Zoschak, still relying on the respirator, spent more than three weeks in rehabilitation at Kindred Hospital New Jersey in Dover, he said.

“I lost some weight,” he said. “And there’s been some muscle atrophy from sitting in a hospital for six weeks.”

The Republican councilman said he will likely return to council meetings “in a couple of weeks,” but might step away from some of the groups and committees to which he’s assigned. “I’m not that mobile yet,” he said. “I’ll do a couple, but I’ve got to take it easy.”

Zoschak said he and his wife have owned the St. Thomas house since 2000. His annual vacations became an issue in the 2015 election. Democratic challenger Heather Champagne raised the matter during her unsuccessful campaign to unseat the Landing resident. She asserted it was wrong for the incumbent to miss about a third of each year’s council meetings because he was in St. Thomas from January until April.

But Zoschak, a retired photographer now in his fourth term on the Roxbury council, said he keeps up with Roxbury matters while away. He said he even tried to fulfill his councilman obligations while at the rehab center last month.

“Believe it or not, I’ve been helping constituents even while I was at Kindred,” he said.

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