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Hero cop now fighting for his life

Chicago Police Sergeant JasA. Kaczysnki | submitted pho| Sun-Times

Chicago Police Sergeant Jason A. Kaczysnki | submitted photo | Sun-Times

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Updated: July 6, 2012 11:10AM

He earned the Chicago Police Department’s highest award for bravery after gunning down the killer of fellow Chicago Police Officer Thor Soderberg — without wearing a bulletproof vest.

Now, just three months after celebrating his 40th birthday, he’s fighting for his own life.

Chicago Police Sgt. Jason Kaczynski collapsed and suffered an apparent heart attack last week while serving a search warrant at 64th and Normal at a location where an AK-47 was recovered.

He’s now listed in critical condition — and coming out of a doctor-induced coma — at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

“There’s still a lot of unanswered questions, but we’re looking at it in a positive way,” Mike Kaczynski, 43, Jason’s older brother, said Friday.

“They can’t tell us if it’s gonna be good or it’s gonna be bad. It’s just gonna be a waiting game. It’s one of those things that’s gonna depend on him.”

Lisa Kaczynski, Jason’s wife, said doctors have told her the adrenaline rush that her husband undoubtedly experienced while executing the search warrant probably caused his heart attack.

“I know he’s good at what he does. I know he’s gonna come home to me every night safely. When you get that knock on the door you never want to get, and it’s a police officer telling you you have to go to the hospital, you fear the worst and hope for the best,” she said.

“Jason is a fighter. He’s stubborn, and he will pull through. That’s what’s keeping me going.”

Referring to the July 2010 shoot-out between her husband and Thor Soderberg’s killer, Lisa Kuczynski said, “We thought that was probably the worst thing that was going to happen. It’s overwhelming.”

A sergeant assigned to the Gresham District, Kuczynski was in the Englewood District last week to execute the search warrant.

If not for two fellow officers, who did five to 10 minutes of chest compression on Kaczynski while waiting for an ambulance to arrive, the hero sergeant might not have survived the heart attack, according to Englewood District Commander Leo Schmitz.

The chest compression was administered by tactical Officer Miriam Swiatkowski and Sgt. Chris Papaioannou.

“They got in a line — eight to 10 people behind each other — and when they made entry, Jason fell down. They didn’t know what happened. They thought he might have tripped and hit his head, but when they went to pick him up, he wasn’t responding. He didn’t wake up,” Schmitz said.

“Chris and Miriam saw that he looked like he didn’t have a good pulse. His color was bad. His heart wasn’t pumping correctly. So, they started doing chest compression to keep the blood flowing.”

Schmitz said he has little doubt that Swiatkowski and Papaioannou saved Kaczynski’s life.

“Thank God he was with his fellow officers so they could tend to him immediately. If he had been on his own — maybe driving home somewhere where nobody saw him — we may not have found him for a while,” Schmitz said.

“It’s a big blow when anything happens to an officer. We care about each other and take care of each other. He’s had to do a great job a few times in his life. He’s helped people his whole career. Now, his fellow officers had a chance to help him.”

Schmitz is a Mount Greenwood neighbor of Kaczynski. Schmitz and Kaczynski have sons in Boy Scouts together.

“He’s an excellent sergeant and an excellent father. He’s involved with his kids. He’s just an all-around good guy. It’s just horrible that this happened to him, but we’re all pulling for him,” Schmitz said.

“Jason is a hard worker. He knows a lot about gangs and a lot about police work. He’s always involved. He earns the respect of his fellow officers because they know they can rely on him. He’s one of those guys that people are glad to see around.”

Kaczynski and his partner, Officer Kimberly Thorp, were given the Carter Harrison award for gunning down Soderberg’s killer in July 2010.

They were on desk duty when they heard gunshots outside a police station in Englewood and stepped into the line of fire, even though they were not wearing bulletproof vests.

Thorp went through the doorway, unaware that Soderberg lay mortally wounded in the parking lot. She was met by a spray of bullets, then took aim at a gun-wielding offender headed toward her. Kaczynski was right behind with his weapon drawn. He fired several shots, striking the gunman in the chest.

At the time of the shoot-out, Kaczynski and Thorp were members of the now-disbanded Targeted Response Unit recovering from injuries. He had a blood clot; she was in a walking cast after foot surgery. Both were getting tired of being saddled to desks and longed for the action of the street.

“We stopped his murderous rampage,” Jason Kaczynski said of his heroics when accepting the award. “Everything changes when something like that happens.”

Now, everything has changed for Lisa Kaczynski. But the agony of waiting for her husband to come out of the coma has been made easier by the long blue line.

“There is always more than one police officer here around the clock. They’re coming out of the woodwork,” Lisa said.

“If they’re not here, they’re texting, emailing and Facebooking. It really is an amazing network and support system. Everyone has stepped up. The Police Department has been wonderful. There’s constantly a bunch of fellow officers here making sure we have everything we need and beyond. It truly is a brotherhood.”

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