Nassau Dad Saved By CPR; Family Hopes Others Learn Procedure

Home / Nassau Dad Saved By CPR; Family Hopes Others Learn Procedure

LEVITTOWN, NY — Just one out of every 10 people who suffer cardiac arrest outside a hospital survive the ordeal. Even fewer survive with little or no everlasting brain damage.

That’s why a family calls it a “miracle” that 71-year-old Gary Peterson of Levittown is walking and talking today. It’s also why they’re committed to learning CPR, or cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

On the afternoon of Dec. 11, Peterson and his wife, Susan, returned home from running errands and saw a child skateboarding outside. A medal-winning skateboarder in his younger days, Peterson thought he’d teach the child a few moves.

“I know, that’s my Dad,” his daughter, Jennifer Peterson, told Patch in an interview Friday.

Gary Peterson seemed fine until he went inside and sat on the couch. He appeared to fall asleep — and made a strange snoring-type sound. Alarmed, his wife rushed over to see if he was OK. When Susan’s attempts to wake him proved unsuccessful, she slapped him. Then again. No response.

“Now she’s freaking out,” Jennifer Peterson said.

Susan rushed outside and called to their neighbor Brian, who is a former New York City firefighter and knew how to perform first aid. After moving Gary to the floor, the neighbor immediately launched into chest compressions while Susan performed mouth-to-mouth.

When they checked for a pulse, they felt nothing. He was suffering from cardiac arrest, meaning his heart stopped beating.

“During cardiac arrest, the heart cannot pump blood to the rest of the body, including the brain and lungs,” the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention writes on its website.

When the heart stops beating, death comes within minutes without treatment. CPR uses chest compressions to mimic how the heart pumps. These compressions help keep blood flowing throughout the body.

Police and emergency medical responders rushed to the Peterson’s home, slapping paddles on Gary’s chest and shocking him, desperate to restart his heart. They checked for a pulse again. Still, his heart wouldn’t beat.

Once at St. Joseph Hospital, medical staff finally found a pulse. After arriving at the hospital, his daughter Pamela Peterson, a nurse at North Shore University Hospital, knew his outlook was grim.

Gary was moved into the intensive care unit, and medical staff used ice packs to drop his temperature several degrees to give his brain and body time to rest, a procedure known as therapeutic hypothermia. He remained in that state for about three days before he warmed back to normal.

A family calls it a “miracle” that 71-year-old Gary Peterson is walking and talking today. It’s also why they want others to learn CPR. (Family photo used with permission)

After eight days in the hospital, doctors removed Peterson’s ventilator since he was breathing on his own. They lowered his sedatives to see how his brain had been affected.

“They call us into the room and the doctor turns to my dad and says, ‘Raise your hand,’ and he starts raising his hands, and we all start clapping and crying,” Jennifer Peterson said. “And then my dad starts clapping, too!”

When they asked his name, he simply replied, “‘Gary.”

“Like nothing happened,” Jennifer said with a laugh.

Initially, Gary showed signs that he was still recovering. He struggled to string words together but improved with each passing day. Eventually, he was taken to St. Francis Hospital where doctors installed a pacemaker/defibrillator in his chest. The device helps control abnormal heart rhythms using electrical pulses. After a week there, he spent another week at a rehabilitation center before returning home about a month after the cardiac arrest.

Gary has almost completely recovered, with Jennifer estimating he’s about 90 percent to 95 percent of his old self.

“He’s totally with it,” she said, though he may not remember where he put something or briefly forget that he has to enter a password to use a cell phone. But by and large, he’s back.

“To go from basically dead on our living room floor to walking around, doing what he used to do now, is incredible,’ Jennifer said.

She called it a “miracle.”

A family calls it a “miracle” that 71-year-old Gary Peterson is walking and talking today. It’s also why they want others to learn CPR. (Family photo used with permission)

Both Jennifer and her mother plan to take CPR classes, and the family hopes others will hear Gary’s story and feel inspired to do the same. Jennifer lives in Manhattan and passes thousands of people every day. Should someone collapse on the street in front her, she wants to be prepared.

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