The ‘perfect storm’ that saved a life at Jamesport 10K race

09/16/2012 8:00 AM |

GIANNA VOLPE PHOTO | Local firefighter Peter Orlowski gives Debbie, his wife of 38 years, a squeeze at their home in Mattituck two weeks after he suffered cardiac arrest during the Jamesport Fire Department 10K race.

Though no raindrops fell on the Aug. 26 Jamesport Fire Department 10K race, Debbie Orlowski, branch manager at Bridgehampton National Bank in Mattituck, said what happened there can only be described as a “perfect storm.”

While participating in the 5K run, her husband, 38-year Mattituck firefighter Peter Orlowski, went into cardiac arrest as she and granddaughter Myah waited unaware at the finish line.

“We actually moved out of the way to let the ambulance pass,” Ms. Orlowski said. “My daughter Jacy was also running in the race, but was ahead of him and didn’t see anything, thank God.”

Mr. Orlowski seems an unlikely heart attack victim, save for a bump on his chest where a combined pacemaker-defibrillator device was installed after the incident. He appears fit and has an active demeanor, but one potential factor leading to the 100 percent blockage of a valve in the left side of his heart was something those outside his household wouldn’t know about.

“I was a closet junk food junkie,” Mr. Orlowski said of his “behind closed doors” eating habits.

“Sure, I was really active and people would see me jogging all the time, but if I was at home and wanted to eat a bunch of ice cream sandwiches, I would,” he said.

Those days are over, he said, but his gratitude to those who helped him survive remains.

“He said he doesn’t remember anything after falling to one knee,” Ms. Orlowski said. “He was running with his trainer, Kerri Butler, his leg started bothering him and, after assessing it was a number 8 on a scale of 1 to 10, she encouraged him to get to the top of the hill because they were on an incline. He said that he couldn’t, that he was going to pass out and, with that, he went into full cardiac arrest.”

As Mr. Orlowski fell, Ms. Butler grabbed him and called for an ambulance. Checking his heartbeat, she saw he had none.

Ms. Butler elevated Mr. Orlowski’s feet and Eileen Corcoran, a registered nurse, dropped out of the race to perform CPR, which kept oxygen flowing to his brain until the ambulance arrived. Another runner stopped to count out the compressions while a third runner, a Suffolk County police officer, assisted with his breathing.

“The way everything happened was a miracle,” Ms. Orlowski said. “My friends are referring to it as ‘the perfect storm.’ Everything just fell into place. When the ambulance arrived, they defibrillated him there on the road. He didn’t respond the first time, but the second time they paddled him, they got his heartbeat back.”

Mr. Orlowski regained consciousness during the trip to Peconic Bay Medical Center, disoriented but knowing something major had just occurred.

“The EMS in the ambulance asked him his name and birthday when he came to,” his wife said. “When my husband answered them correctly, the EMS took his hand and told him, ‘You’re a lucky man.’ I still had no idea what had happened. I didn’t know anything until my daughter came to get me in registration at the hospital, took me by the arm and told me everything.”

After a short stint at PBMC, Mr. Orlowski was transferred to Stony Brook University Medical Center, where he was outfitted with a stent for the arterial blockage and a combination pacemaker/defibrillator for his arrhythmia, which should regulate his heartbeat if anything happens again.

“When I got there, it was like going to Club Med,” Mr. Orlowski said of the care he received, “It was bing, bong, boo and then I was out of there like a brand-new guy. The Riverhead volunteers did a great job, Peconic Bay Medical did a great job, the girls that drove me to Stony Brook and the all the doctors who worked on me -— everyone did a great job.”

Ms. Orlowski added she couldn’t be more thankful for everyone involved in saving the life of her husband and father of their two children. She said, “If it weren’t for them, he wouldn’t be here.”

gvolpe@timesreview.com