An Irish grandfather had a close brush with death when he brought his granddaughters to pre-school last week on Long Island.
Peter Clarke, 61, was doing the school run when he went into cardiac arrest last Wednesday and fell flat on his face in the middle of Trinity Regional School in East Northport.
“I would be dead if it did not happen in the school,” reflected Clarke, who was saved after quick thinking parents sprang into action during the morning rush.
It all began on the second morning of term at the school. Clarke, originally from Oldcastle, Co. Meath, was dropping his granddaughters off at school shortly after 8:30 a.m. when he suddenly began to feel queasy close to the main foyer of the entrance.
“I just didn’t feel good for five seconds,” the Smithtown resident told the Irish Voice.
Clarke then collapsed onto the floor. But in a fortunate twist of fate, he was soon surrounded by emergency personnel.
Two off-duty police officers, an off-duty firefighter and a school nurse were on hand to treat Clarke. In another stroke of luck, a defibrillator was hanging within arm’s reach of where Clarke collapsed.
“Without that defibrillator I was dead,” Clarke said.
Northport Police Officer Pete Howard explained to the Irish Voice how the crisis unfolded as he dropped his 4-year-old daughter off at school.
“There were 20 or 30 parents there; it was pretty crowded as I walked by the main desk,” he recalled.
“A minute later from the corner of my eye I see this older gentleman fall flat forward on his face. Out of instinct I ran over there,” said Howard, who has been a member of the Northport Police Department for 16 years.
Acting on instinct, Howard turned Clarke on his back to open his airways, and immediately recognized the grandfather.
“I screamed for someone to call 911 and asked for an IED,” Howard recalls.
School nurse Kathy Schildhorn, MTA Police Lieutenant Alex Lindsay and Greenlawn Fire Department advanced life support (ALS) provider Mario Geddes were on hand to assist.
“We knew he was in cardiac arrest right away,” said Howard.
The team of medical personnel worked on Clarke, shocking him three times in attempts to restart his heart.
“After the third shock he opened his eyes and asked what happened,” recalls Howard.
Clarke, who blacked out, recalls little of the drama. “I remember I saw black, like a tunnel, not any of that white crap, and next thing I was gone,” he said.
“When I woke up I asked what happened and I recognized Pete Howard,” the grandfather recalls.
Clarke had to ignore his instincts to get up when he was instructed to remain still until the ambulance arrived.
“The Irish are very stubborn and I am not good with doctors,” said Clarke, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1972.
Howard said a defibrillator was so close due to Louis’ Law, a New York State law enacted in 2002 which mandates that all schools must have portable defibrillators. The law was passed after Northport High School freshman Louis Acompora, 14, died from cardiac arrest during his first high school lacrosse game.
As a police officer, Howard had used a defibrillator a dozen times in his career. Back in his family home by 9:10 a.m., the father of three said he was a little shaken by the morning emergency.
“It was pretty crazy, it took me a few hours to calm down,” Howard said.
Meanwhile, Clarke was rushed to Huntington Hospital, where doctors couldn’t believe the Irishman had been so lucky.
“I have never even had high blood pressure,” said Clarke, who has worked as a diesel mechanic for most of his life.
The doctors placed two stents in his heart and kept him under observation for a few days.
For now, doctors have told Clarke to quit smoking and stop drinking caffeinated tea. One week on from the incident, Clarke says he has more energy since the stents were inserted.
“You say to yourself, sitting up in the hospital bed, I can’t drink tea? Well I am lucky to be here, to be drinking anything,” he reflected.
Clarke’s only daughter, Erin Cancro, is grateful to the medical personnel who saved her fathers life.
“We are just so grateful to the men and women who helped him,” Cancro told the Irish Voice.
“There are people that will step in and help in an emergency. You would hope in an emergency you can act. We are lucky these people did.”