MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CBS Local) — A Wisconsin veteran was declared clinically dead, but then he woke up.

Sergeant First Class Jim Bittner, who served 32 and a half years as member of the Wisconsin Army National Guard, was scheduled for a specialized surgery to clean plaque out of his arteries and lungs. But poor health threatened to delay or cancel the procedure.

“I was having shortness of breath and I started coughing up blood,” Bittner told WTMJ.

Bittner went to the emergency room in Mosinee and then was flown by helicopter to Froedtert Hospital near Milwaukee to receive more specialized care. There, he went into cardiac arrest.

“His heart did not beat just over three minutes,” said Mary Bittner, Jim’s wife.

With little hope, heart surgeon Dr. Lyle Joyce put Bittner on life support.

“This would at least give him a chance to say goodbye to his family,” Joyce said.

“Worst day of my life,” said Mary Bittner.

But Jim Bittner woke up the next day and he was in much better shape than anyone could have imagined. He underwent heart surgery and is now back home preparing for another holiday season with his family.

“I got too much stuff to do!” said Bittner.