For the Scuncio family, a relaxing morning walk turned into a nightmare on July 18. Robert, 64, went into cardiac arrest at 8:30 a.m. Despite having heart surgery last September, Robert had three blocked valves.
A truck driver for 35 years, Robert believed he was physically fit, having lost 52 pounds thanks to a strict diet and walking in the past year. That Tuesday morning in July, he joined his wife and her sister, Gail Powers, for a walk around the neighborhood. The three were leaving from a visit to another of his wife’s sister’s house when he collapsed.
“Bob simply passed out and fell,” his wife Elaine explained. “He just dropped.”
Powers said Robert had his eyes wide open yet was snoring as both women held his head watching his breathing. Powers immediately began CPR and continued until emergency response crews arrived. That is when they said the miracle happened.
“He should not have survived. They said he had a one-percent chance of survival,” Powers said. “It was because they did not give up on him. He did not give up.”
Powers and Elaine are referring to the responders at Fire Engine 4, Ladder 3 and Rescue 3. Again and again, the sisters repeated, “They did not give up.”
Robert was defibrillated 12 times in total and ended up with seven broken ribs, but he survived and is doing well. Jason Umbenhauer, Deputy Chief of Emergency Medical Services with the Warwick Fire Department, said the success is owed to new on-site protocols put into effect December 2016.
“We stay a minimum of 30 minutes on scene. We’ve had a large amount of success stories. We had another letter with a similar story last week,” Umbenhauer said.
He said the change in protocol was controversial when introduced – people did not want to stay on scene but rather be brought to the hospital. Umbenhauer insists rescue personnel are trained and have the same advanced life support equipment as in the hospital, and the results speak for themselves.
“National survival rates for heart attacks were in the seven to eight percent range. The new procedures boost them into almost 30 percent range.”
To perform high-quality CPR, he explained, the person performing the task should be switched out every two to three minutes. This is why more responders arrive on scene for cardiac arrest. In Robert’s case, three responders were required to travel to Rhode Island Hospital with him to continue performing CPR while in route.
CPR was performed for nearly the entire half-hour at the scene, being moved to a rescue vehicle after he regained consciousness and was talking.
Brian Grassi, First Lieutenant of Engine 4, the first truck to arrive, described Robert as a fighter, and upon hearing of Robert talking to Elaine about his broken ribs, he said, “I’m happy to hear he’s complaining.”
Both Umbenhauer and Grassi said infrequently patients or families return to rescue crews with a follow-up, but responders are often curious and always hopeful.
“We accept that we’re not always going to find out what happened once they get to the hospital, but we are curious. It’s not often we get such a positive outcome,” Grassi said. He explained HIPA comes into play when seeking a follow-up, but sometimes Umbenhauer can reach out to hospitals and doctors.
Powers and her niece, Elaine and Robert’s daughter Tanya Scuncio, went to stations 3 and 4 with donuts and thanked the responders for the life-saving work. Powers said the responders were “over the moon” to hear how well he was doing.
“It was certainly a boost,” Grassi said. “This gentleman has a big family, it’s a ripple effect, the outcome has effected so many.”
Elaine said Robert is staying close to home now, after leaving the hospital on Sunday, July 30. She said her daughter, Tanya, is considering putting together a CPR training class at her hair salon on Quaker Lane, with the proceeds going to the American Heart Association.
“Clearly, it’s a miracle – if you believe in that – doctors at Rhode Island Hospital could not believe he was still with us, “ Elaine said. “After essentially dying and coming back to life, he’s extremely grateful.”
The Scuncio Family would like to extend gratitude and praise to the men on Engine 4: Brian Grassi, Joseph D’Antonio and Noah Craven, as well as the men from Rescue 3, Justin Miller and Joseph Ducharme, and Ladder 3, William Wilson and Matthew Maraia.
In a letter to the Scuncio family, Mayor Scott Avedisian thanked the family for writing to the response crews and repeated the same sentiments for the Warwick emergency response crews.
Robert said he is doing well. His ribs are sore but he intends to visit responders once he is feeling up to it. With a smile, he said, “Life goes on, I hope.”