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Independence Health System Athletic Trainers Save the Day, and the Paramedic, From Fatal Heart Attack

Independence Health System Athletic Trainers Save the Day, and the Paramedic, From Fatal Heart Attack

GREENSBURG, PA, February 20, 2024 … A Pittsburgh-area EMS provider for more than 32 years, John Palumbo responded to more than his share of emergency calls, not all of which ended in a positive outcome. Never did the one-time paramedic imagine that he would one day be on the receiving end of resuscitation efforts or hospitalized for heart surgery.  Thankfully, the 72-year-old Bethel Park resident is among the 12 percent who survive what’s known as a widow-maker heart attack, and grateful to the team at Independence Health System for saving his life. 

With no family history of heart disease or cardiac issues of his own, Palumbo was doing what many retirees do – preparing to join family and friends for a sporting event at Greensburg’s Seton Hill University on February 10. 

Palumbo remembers deciding that he didn’t want to make the long trek up the stairs from lower-level parking lots as he found a spot on the roadway leading to the gymnasium where he planned to watch the Griffins men’s basketball game against Clarion University’s Golden Eagles and cheer on Griffin senior Ryan Meis.  

“I’ve gone to many games, but this was the first time I decided to drive myself,” Palumbo recalled. “As I began walking toward the building, I started to feel a sharp pain on the left side of my chest.  When I got to the gym, everything seemed fine. Then I heard Ryan’s grandfather, Russ, ask me how I felt -- just before I went down.” 

That’s when Independence Health System athletic trainers contracted by Seton Hill University went into action.  

 Seton Hill Head Athletic Trainer Trevor Lotz heard the cries for help from fans watching the fourth quarter of the women’s basketball game and headed toward the emergency, alerting Dave Snowberger, formerly with Independence Health System and now athletic trainer for Clarion, that his help was needed. Having determined Palumbo wasn’t breathing and lacked a pulse, the pair began administering CPR and deploying the AED to shock Palumbo’s heart. Another Seton Hill athletic trainer, Nicole Markiewicz, monitored for a radial pulse as chest compressions continued. Lotz finally confirmed a strong, steady carotid pulse, as Palumbo roused from unconsciousness and made eye contact with the athletic trainers just prior to the arrival of Mutual Aid EMS.  

Palumbo was evaluated in the Independence Health System Westmoreland Hospital Emergency Department, while the cardiac catheterization lab was being prepped. Independence Health interventional cardiologist Juan Chahin, MD, FACC, FSCAI, determined Palumbo had significant blockages in two arteries, including a 95 percent occlusion of the left anterior descending (LAD) artery – otherwise known as the widow-maker – which provides 50 percent of the heart muscle’s blood supply.  Clearing the blockages, Dr. Chahin implanted two stents, and advised Palumbo at discharge to follow up with a physician closer to his home who will oversee his cardiac rehabilitation. 

In the meantime, Palumbo is already planning his next Seton Hill sports outing – senior day for his favorite guard February 24, where he is scheduled to be recognized by the team as the real winner on the court. 

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