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East Meadow trainer helps save a life

Being at ‘the right place at the right time’

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East Meadow athletic trainer Dan DeSimone and Farmingdale trainer Phil Fandale were at the right place at the right time at a varsity football game at Farmingdale High School on March 20 when Nassau County football official Phil LoNigro suddenly collapsed.

The minute and a half or so that followed felt like forever, DeSimone and Fandale agreed, but those precious seconds of teamwork saved LoNigro’s life.

“I didn’t see him collapse,” DeSimone said. “There was a little bit of commotion, and I look over and from where I was standing — I had to look through a few of the players on the field. I saw him laying there, so I ran out there as fast as I could to assess what was going on.”

Fandale said it was his first instinct to grab the automated external defibrillator, or AED, because when somebody collapses the way LoNigro did, there’s no time to waste. “Time is everything if he does have heart failure,” Fandale said.

When DeSimone reached LoNigro, he was lying on his stomach, and breathing. A physician named Dr. Matthew Heller and DeSimone checked his vitals, and when Fandale got there they turned him over to determine what was wrong.

Fandale, who said he has known LoNigro for years, didn’t know it was him until LoNigro was turned face-up. “I said, ‘Oh, jeez,’” Fandale recounted. “It kind of hit home for a minute.” 

Then LoNigro stopped breathing, and had no pulse. “At that point, it was determined that we had to do CPR and use the AED on him,” DeSimone said. “We cut off his shirt, and I just started doing chest compressions on him without hesitation. Phil, at the same time, was readying the AED, putting the pads onto his chest, and honestly, I don’t think I made it through a full cycle of compressions before the AED was on him and it was already analyzing the heart rhythm.”

Seconds later, the AED advised a shock. “Phil Fandale pressed the shock button and it shocked him,” DeSimone said of LoNigro. “We waited for the AED to prompt us to take the next step. If it picks up a pulse, it tells us ‘pulse found,’ or if we have to continue compressions it basically says that. So I continued with compressions after it prompted me to.”

And after what DeSimone described as a very long three to five seconds, the AED detected LoNigro’s heart rhythm, and he opened his eyes. He was confused, and asked those around him what had just happened.

LoNigro was taken to NYU Langone Hospital, and is expected to be fine. The game continued, and Farmingdale won.

“I’m hoping for a speedy and full recovery to get back on his feet, and hopefully back to officiating football,” DeSimone said of LoNigro. “That’s my wish for him.”

DeSimone said that he had seen LoNigro on the football field, but did not know him well. He said that he and Fandale had worked together before at numerous games, but never as rescuers.

The fact that he and DeSimone saved a life hadn’t settled in yet, Fandale said last Friday. “It’s one of those things that you never hope you have to do,” he said, “but when it happens and it turns out the way it did, it’s amazing.”

While LoNigro was unresponsive for only a short time, DeSimone and Fandale agreed that everyone remained calm. The players from both teams kneeled. 

“You want to remain calm and you want to make sure that you’re doing everything right,” Fandale said. “Your adrenaline is going, but you have to keep it in check.”

“We train for CPR and AED on an annual basis, but we don’t ever expect to actually have to do it,” DeSimone said. “Luckily, from the time of collapse to the time we shocked him and he was brought back to, essentially, life, it was about a minute to a minute and a half.”

At the East Meadow School District Board of Education meeting on March 24, Superintendent Dr. Kenneth A. Card Jr. thanked DeSimone and Fandale for their quick response and assistance. “Congratulations on a job well done,” Card said.

“The past few days have been crazy — just a lot of processing,” DeSimone said. “I know I saved someone’s life, but I just feel, as an athletic trainer, I was just in the right place at the right time and I did what I had to do. Phil Fandale could say the same thing, and we’re just lucky everything worked out.”