Suzanne Calicchio from Kings Park had just put a roast beef in the oven last May when she felt something was wrong. First there was the numbness in her arm and then the pain in her chest.
As a precaution, Calicchio’s fiancé, Michael Barradas, called an ambulance, a move that no doubt helped save her life.
Calicchio, 48, was brought to St. Louis. Catherine of Siena Hospital in Smithtown after suffering from a “widower”, the most severe type of heart attack, where there is a 100% blockage in the left anterior descending artery, a critical blood vessel.
Over the next 90 minutes, doctors resuscitated Calicchio again and again – 33 times in total – after shocking her with an automatic external defibrillator.
“It’s almost like your own heart stops,” Barradas said. “You start crying and you have no idea what to do. You’re looking for help and someone to hug you and there’s no one there.”
More than six months later, Calicchio, now recovering and planning her September wedding, still understands how close she came to death and the extreme measures taken to save her life.
“I was blown away that it happened to me,” she said. “Of course I do not remember anything. But the fact that the doctor said it … he has never seen a case like this struck me in the eyes.”
Dr. James Ryan, director of St. Catherine’s Emergency Department, which has been practicing emergency medicine for 35 years, said he has never shocked a patient 33 times and had caused that person to survive with a normal mental status.
“It’s pretty remarkable that we did resuscitation that lasted 1 hour and 20 minutes and she came out of it and seems completely normal now,” Ryan said. “It’s incredibly unusual.”
‘Your heart falls to the floor’
May 11 started as a normal spring day for Calicchio, who runs a motorhome rental company.
She was preparing dinner when she told Barradas, 56, about the pain in her arm and chest. Calicchio was not particularly worried, but Barradas took no chances and called 911.
In the hospital, blocked was told of doctors that his fiance had had cardiac arrest and they had revived her 20 times. A few minutes later, an update: The doctors were up to 27 shocks and brought her to the catheterization lab – where she would receive six more shocks – before a stent was inserted to open the artery.
“They said that if they can find something wrong, she has a 50-50 chance of living, but if they can not find anything wrong with her, she will not get out of here alive,” Barradas said. “Your heart drops to the floor in a split second because it’s incredible to hear the words of someone who was home a few hours before and was fine.”
Ryan said Calicchio, who had no history of heart disease, was an unusual case. He wanted to shock her heart back to a normal rhythm and she seemed to stabilize. But a few moments later, the heart would stop again, unable to pump blood.
“We would get her back for a while and she would stop again,” he said. “We got it knocked pretty regularly, but every few minutes we had to shock her again.”
‘It was not yet time to go’
Calicchio, a born-again Christian, said she remembers a sight while unaware of “crossing over” to a place with a white gate. Behind the gate, Calicchio said, were her mother, Joanne, who had died when she was 13, and Barradas’ mother, Manuela, who had passed away the year before.
“They said it was not time to go yet,” she said.
Once Calicchio was stabilized, doctors implanted an Impella device that helps blood flow to the heart. Days later, they transferred Calicchio to St. Francis Hospital & Heart Center in Roslyn.
But her problems were not over.
After the Impella device was removed, Calicchio’s kidneys began to fail and she was put on dialysis. Then she got a round of pneumonia, and it would be three weeks before she was discharged from St. French.
Calicchio, who continues to receive cognitive therapy and suffers from short-term memory loss, now appears to be heading for a full recovery, Ryan said.
“The important take-away message is to listen to your body when you have chest pain,” he said. “If you ignore it, the result is that could be catastrophic. “
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