HealthSouth Visitor’s Brush with Death Brings a New Perspective on Life

3/21/2017

When Robert (Bubba) Zelensky, of Morrisdale, Pa., walked into HealthSouth Nittany Valley Rehabilitation Hospital on July 25, he had no idea that the events about to unfold would forever change his perspective on life – and death.

Bubba was visiting his mother, who was a patient at HealthSouth.  He was sitting in her wheelchair, talking with her, while she lay in the hospital bed.  Suddenly, his heart stopped, and he became unconscious.  

HealthSouth Registered Nurse Elise Howard was the first to find Bubba, and responded immediately with life-saving efforts.  Nurses and staff quickly joined her and a team was in place to keep Bubba alive.  “Bubba was in the wheelchair, so we moved him to a bed and started CPR,” says Howard.  “We were all working together to save him.”

HealthSouth staff initiated the 911 call and the local EMS (emergency medical services) companies responded swiftly and efficiently.  Bubba was transported by ambulance to Mount Nittany Medical Center, and then life-flighted to Geisinger Medical Center in Danville.  

Three day had passed, from the time of his sudden cardiac arrest at HealthSouth Nittany Valley, to the moment he fully regained consciousness.  “I have flashes of waking up in the hospital, and in the helicopter, with people standing over me, but for the most part, I was unconscious,” Bubba says.  

Bubba doesn’t recall anything about the events leading up to his visit at HealthSouth.  He has no recollection of the photos that he took with his phone that day, and items that he purchased at the store. “I can’t even remember walking into HealthSouth to see my mom that day,” he adds.  

What Bubba does remember is a clear and vivid experience that would forever change his life.  

Bubba describes what happened:  “My body was zooming towards a brilliant light, and the light was a place that I wanted to be.  But something was covering my eyes; I was not able to see clearly,” he explains.   “It was kind of like going through tall grass; I wanted to push away whatever was keeping me from seeing what was ahead of me.”  

Then, as Bubba looked ahead towards the light, he could see two people.  “They were younger, but I recognized them as soon as I looked into their eyes,” he said.

Bubba saw his father and his grandmother, both of whom are deceased.  “I was excited to see how healthy my dad looked,” he added. “They were both in the prime of their life!”  He continues, “But Dad was ‘shushing’ me away with his hand, as if to say, ‘you’re not supposed to be here.’” 

Bubba said that he was “bathing in that light” and that although he was walking towards it, he could not catch up to the light or his family.  

His next clear memory is waking up as a patient at Geisinger Medical Center.    “This experience gave me a new outlook on life, and a feeling of peace about death,” Bubba says.  

“When you go through something like this, it’s humbling, he says. “I was kept alive by the angels at HealthSouth.”  

Bubba also cherishes another form of an angel  – a hummingbird that appeared to his son while Bubba was in the hospital.  “My son was praying to my dad (his grandfather), asking him to watch over me,” Bubba explains.  “At that moment, a hummingbird hovered in front of him, and he took a photo.”   The photo shows a hummingbird, in the perfect shape of an angel.  Bubba adds, “I call it ‘my son’s angel,’ and it’s another part of the experience that will stay with me forever.”  

Bubba, an instructor in the kitchen at the Houtzdale State Correctional Institution, is fully recovered and enjoying life at home with his family, grateful for the experience.

 “I still think about it so much, and I get flashes, like memories, that come back to me,” he says.  “The whole experience sealed the deal for me.  I know what death means and I’m not afraid. “  


The Centre County Chapter of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Association recently recognized local EMS personnel and HealthSouth Nittany Valley nurses for their rescue of Bubba Zelensky, who experienced sudden cardiac arrest while he was visiting his mother at HealthSouth.  The recognition event was held on September 14 at Mount Nittany Medical Center.   Pictured with Bubba, center, are HealthSouth Registered Nurses Elise Howard, Buddie VanHart, Shelby Wellar and Katie Treml.  Additional staff involved in the rescue include Natasha Poorman, CRRN; Holly Preslovich, CRRN; Michelle Gray, nurse staffing coordinator; and Lori Flattery-Jarvis, RN, nurse manager.

Robert (Bubba) Zelensky

Source: HealthSouth Nittany Valley