66-year-old Harold Liberatore from Milton recently led a fundraising campaign to purchase three AEDs (automated external defibrillators) for the Lincoln Park Police Department. An AED is a portable device that can diagnose abnormal heart activity and then correct it with electrical therapy.
Liberator knew the medical equipment would provide critical aid to individuals in cardiac arrest. He never imagined, however, that it would save his own life.
A few months ago, Liberatore was out shopping by himself for a party when he stopped at a traffic light along Main Street in Lincoln Park. That’s the last thing he remembers before waking up in Chilton Hospital. There, a combination of dedicated medical professionals, 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 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, who is also an experienced emergency medical technician, and he had an AED in the trunk of his vehicle.
In an amazing twist of fate, the very same machine may have been donated by Liberatore himself when he was commander of the local American Legion. The AED was used on Liberatore five times to “shock” his heart before he reached the hospital.
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, Sgt. 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 along the way to Chilton Hospital in Pompton Plains.
“As we approached the hospital, Harold started breathing on his own,” Ruggiero said. Liberatore was successfully revived and soon under the care of Chilton’s Emergency Department, where his story continues.
Liberatore was promptly evaluated by the Emergency Department team and treated with another technological innovation: therapeutic hypothermia.
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,” Dr. Blitz asserted. “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,” said Liberatore. “It’s a miracle I’m alive.”