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Miracle on Main Street: Generosity and Quick Response to Chilton Hospital Help Man Survive Heart Attack
05/06/2013

Harold Liberatore with an AED and the police officers who helped save his life: Patrolman Russell Ruggiero, Detective Joseph Zammit, Sgt. John Karback and Patrolman John Cifelli.

Those who have ever wondered about the benefits of giving to charity may want to ask Harold Liberatore.

The 66-year-old man from Milton, NJ recently led a fundraising campaign to purchase three AEDs (automated external defibrillators) for the Lincoln Park Police Department. He knew the medical equipment would provide critical aid to individuals enduring cardiac arrest.

He never imagined, however, that it would save his own life.

Last year, Liberatore was out shopping for a party, by himself, when he stopped at a traffic light along Main Street in Lincoln Park. That's all he remembers before waking up in Chilton Hospital, though a combination of extraordinary people, technology – and perhaps a little serendipity – enabled him to survive a heart attack and fully recover.

Liberatore was found alone in his car, slumped over the steering wheel, by a caring bystander who immediately called for help. Fortunately, an off-duty police officer was driving right behind him and additional responders arrived within minutes, including three more officers from the Lincoln Park Police Department and a volunteer rescue team from Lincoln Park Emergency Medical Services. First on the scene was Patrolman Russell Ruggiero, also an experienced emergency medical technician, with an AED in the trunk of his vehicle.

In an amazing twist of fate, the very machine may have been donated by Liberatore himself when he was commander of the American Legion – and was used five times to "shock" his heart before they reached the hospital.

An AED is a portable device that can diagnose abnormal heart activity and then correct it with electrical therapy. “Prior to the advent of automatic defibrillators, we relied on highly trained medical professionals to restore heart rhythm,” noted Lawrence Blitz, M.D., medical director of Chilton’s Cardiovascular Interventional Laboratory (CVIL). “Now we have an advanced machine that can be operated by someone with minimal training, allowing emergency intervention more quickly, when every minute is critical.”

Thanks, in part, to support from the American Legion and other benefactors, every patrol car in the Lincoln Park Police Department fleet is now equipped with an AED, since officers are often the first responders in a medical emergency. In Liberatore’s case, Ruggiero arrived within 60 seconds and was quickly aided by Detective Joseph Zammit, Sergeant John Karback and Patrolman John Cifelli. “Harold’s car was locked, so I yelled for the other officers to break the passenger window, allowing us to put the car in park and pull Harold out of the vehicle,” Ruggiero recalled. “He had no pulse and wasn’t breathing, so we performed CPR right there on the street and retrieved the AED… which signaled the need for two “shocks” before the ambulance arrived.” Without hesitation, Ruggiero hopped in the rig to assist the first aid crew.  Together, they continued CPR and electrical therapy all the way to Pompton Plains.

“As we approached the hospital, Harold started breathing on his own,” stated Ruggiero.  Liberatore was successfully revived and soon under the care of Chilton’s Emergency Department, where his compelling story continues. Liberatore was promptly evaluated by the Emergency Department team and treated with another technological innovation: therapeutic hypothermia. According to Dina Tortorelli, RN, BSN, RCIS, CNML, manager of the CVIL and Cardiac Rehabilitation Department, Chilton was among the region’s first hospitals to introduce the breakthrough technique, which temporarily cools the body to prevent brain damage.

Therapeutic hypothermia is used specifically for patients who remain unconscious after a cardiac arrest. “When the heart stops beating, the brain is deprived of blood and oxygen. While we can often restore circulation, the brain may not wake up right away,” explained Dr. Blitz. “Therapeutic hypothermia slows everything down to reduce stress and risk for permanent neurological injury.”

With the help of automated “cooling pads,” the patient’s body temperature is lowered about 7°F while he or she is kept in a medically-induced coma. Within 24 hours, the individual is then gradually warmed to normal temperature.

Following a cardiac catheterization and two days of therapeutic hypothermia, Liberatore awoke fully coherent – eager to jump out of bed and straight toward an American Legion convention. On his doctor’s advice, he opted for cardiac rehabilitation instead, enrolling in Chilton’s 12-week outpatient program.

“Harold’s prognosis is excellent,” asserted Dr. Blitz. “He sustained minimal heart muscle damage and shows no evidence of neurological deficiency. With some modest lifestyle changes and medication, he should do great.”

“I know it happens every day, but you never think a heart attack will happen to you,” added Liberatore. “It’s a miracle I’m alive.”

Chilton Hospital is a fully accredited, 260-bed, acute-care, community hospital. It is the first hospital in New Jersey to received Pathway to Excellence designation from the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Chilton recently embarked on a $24 million modernization project, which includes the Cardiovascular Interventional Lab, The Breast Center and the Total Joint Center. It is also a four-time recipient of the HealthGrades Specialty Excellence Award in Stroke, and Five-Star Rated for Stroke Care, the highest possible, for six years in a row. In addition, Chilton is also Five-Star Rated for Joint Replacement and Total Knee Replacement for 2012. Chilton’s many services include a state-of-the-art Emergency Department, the Sleep Health Institute, the Comprehensive Wound Healing and Hyperbaric Center, the Chilton Cancer Center, the MotherBaby Center a weight loss surgery program and minimally invasive and robot-assisted surgery. The hospital is located at 97 West Parkway in Pompton Plains, NJ 07444. For more information about Chilton's facilities and services, or to find a doctor by name, specialty, or location, please visit www.chiltonhealth.org or call 1-888-CHILTON.

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