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Riverhead Judge Allen Smith on the mend after suffering heart attack

Last Sunday seemed in every way like a typical morning at Allen Smith’s Aquebogue house. Breakfast was underway and he was planning for the day ahead.

As one of two Riverhead Town justices he has paperwork to look after, even as the courts are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and proceedings are being carried via Skype.

Then the chest pains started.

“It was the proverbial 800-pound gorilla sitting on my chest,” he said. “I had all the symptoms you read about when someone is having a heart attack. I told [partner] Charlene [Mascia], ‘I think I might be having a heart attack.’ ”

Ms. Mascia, resource coordinator for the East End Regional Intervention Court, commonly referred to as the “drug court,” reached for the phone to call 911 and possibly save her partner’s life.

“It was just a few minutes when the ambulance arrived,” Mr. Smith said.

While he was not thinking of it at that moment, back when Mr. Smith was Riverhead Town supervisor in 1978, he and the town board approved the creation of the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps.

The ambulance took Mr. Smith to Peconic Bay Medical Center, where the effort underway the last few weeks has been almost entirely focused on treating coronavirus patients. Heart attack patients have been few and far between, a trend other hospitals in the region have also seen.

In the emergency room he received treatment, including morphine to dull the pain.

“There I was in the midst of all of that coronavirus stuff,” Mr. Smith said, “being treated for something entirely different. But I thought I was going to die right there.”

In January, PBMC unveiled its new critical care pavilion and heart center, a $67.8 million facility completed after three years of construction. Since its partnership with Northwell Health four years ago, PBMC has been offering an expanded range of clinical services, including opening its first cardiac cath lab.

On Monday morning, Mr. Smith was wheeled to the new center, where he received cardiac catheterization in which a tube is snaked up to the heart to survey any possible damage. Very little was found, and the following morning Mr. Smith was released and sent home. 

“It was all very quick,” he said. “The place was full of COVID-19 patients. If you aren’t one of those, they want you out.”

Now back home, Mr. Smith will return to his role on the bench. Although the bench will now be the kitchen table. The State Office of Court Administration has outfitted his home with a new computer and scanner. Now, he said, he can do Skype video arraignments for defendants who are brought before a judge as required by law.

“I am not as good at this as Lori,” he said, referring to his counterpart on the bench, Lori Hulse. “She’s really good at the computer stuff.”

Now, he said, he’s going to have to get up to speed himself.

“I’m feeling pretty lucky,” he said.