Maria Gonzalez, RN, CEN, BSN, has a family history of heart disease and had taken action to stave it off in her own life, eating well and exercising. But chest pains that wouldn’t let up in 2021 revealed that the chief nursing officer at Ellenville Regional Hospital had a blocked circumflex artery.
In the 26 years that Brian Vigorita has worked at Laerdal Medical, most recently as creative services director, he had repeatedly seen the chain of survival, the steps necessary to save the life of someone in sudden cardiac arrest. He never though that he wo
uld need it. But on July 21, 2021, he went into sudden cardiac arrest.
Gonzalez and Vigorita are the survivor honorees of the 2022 Dutchess-Ulster Heart Walk set for Saturday, April 30, on the Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park. Participants are invited to start their walk at either end, anytime between 9 and 11 a.m.
“My mother died of a heart attack at the age of 44,” Gonzalez said. “Although I ate well and exercised, I wasn’t managing my stress.”
That summer, the pandemic consumed Gonzalez’ work life, and she noticed that with activity, her chest pains worsened. In the autumn, she was at a pumpkin patch, and her chest pains were so bad that her husband wanted to take her to the emergency department.
“I was in a little bit of denial,” Gonzalez said. “I had an appointment the next day with a cardiologist, so waited for that.”
Although her EKG was normal, the cardiologist sent her for a stress test- which revealed the blocked artery. Today, Gonzalez has a stent and said cardiac rehab has given her a way to quiet her brain, de-stress and think about positive things.
“I’d urge people to not delay care,” she said.
Vigorita credits the fact that his whole family was home at the same time – a rare occurrence – and the 911 dispatcher, to saving his life.
“We also own Powerhouse Gym, and I go there most evenings after work,” Vigorita said.
“Usually, some of us go home and some stay behind to close up, but on July 21, my wife, my 16-year-old twin stepsons and I were all at home.”
Between 9:30 and 10 p.m., Vigorita was asleep on the couch, and when his stepson Giuseppe came into the room, he saw Vigorita convulsing and thought he was having a nightmare. Vigorita’s wife Nancy couldn’t wake him, and they called 911. Giuseppe’s twin, Martin, pulled Vigorita off the couch, and with the help of the dispatcher, performed CPR till the ambulance arrived. EMTs used a defibrillator on Vigorita and transported him to the hospital, where his heart stopped three more times.
That’s the chain of survival – calling 911, starting CPR, using an AED, and ambulance response, called advanced care. That’s what Vigorita has worked on for years in his professional life.
Some aspects of being a survivor have surprised him, in particular the anger and depression he has faced.
“I’m a body builder, and I lost 25 pounds after being hospitalized,” Vigorita said. “I looked like I had just deflated. There’s a roller coaster of emotions, every day. We need to share that with the public. You think that survivors should be happy that their lives are saved, but there’s so much going on inside that you don’t see.”
Vigorita added mental health therapy to physical therapy to his recovery, and has an interest in supporting the people who save a life with CPR.
Today, he’s back at Laerdal and the gym, and appreciating the people around him.
“Supporting the Heart Walk saves lives like Maria’s and Brian’s,” said Donna Kosack, System Adoption Manager at Laerdal Medical, also a heart disease survivor, and chair of the 2022 Dutchess-Ulster Heart Walk. “We are blessed that these survivors are sharing their stories and experience, as this will leave a lasting impact on those that hear it… and in turn help save even more lives.”
Vigorita is 51 and lives in Hopewell Junction with his family.
Gonzalez lives in Ellenville with her husband of 40 years, Miguel Gonzalez. They have two children, Michael and Kayla.
Mackey, Butts and Whalen is the survivor honoree sponsor.
For information or to register, visit DutchessUlsterHeartWalk.org or contact Danielle.Schuka@heart.org.