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Grateful cardiac patient: 'Thanks for saving my life'

Published: Friday, July 22, 2011 at 9:27 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, July 22, 2011 at 9:27 a.m.

Quick thinking, proper equipment and having the right people in the right place at the right time are what saved the life of 39-year-old Marcelo Aguero of Windsor, who suffered cardiac arrest on the tennis court of Petaluma Valley Athletic Club on April 23.

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Paramedic Tony Giacomini of Petaluma, left, listens as Marcelo Aguero describes his care at Petaluma Valley Hospital on April 23.

Nina Zhito

It was a singles tennis match between the Fountain Grove Athletic Club's men's tennis team of Santa Rosa and the Petaluma Valley Athletic Club's men's team that brought Regal Wine Company vice president Aguero and paramedic/fire engineer Tony Giacomini to the PVA courts that day.

“I remember warming up,” said Aguero. “I felt like a champ that day. I didn't have any symptoms. But at 3:30 p.m., it was pretty much lights out.”

Giacomini was leading Aguero by one game in their tennis match when Aguero collapsed.

“He came in for the ball, hit it and it went out of bounds,” said Giacomini, a Petaluma resident. “I went to get the ball and I heard him fall. When I turned around I saw him face down on the ground.”

He ran over to Aguero to check his breathing and immediately started CPR. Giacomini's wife, who had seen the incident, rushed to get the portable automated external defibrillator, which PVAC keeps on the premises.

“I got CPR and defibrillation twice, once from Giacomini and once from responding paramedics,” said Aguero. “But I had no heartbeat for 20 minutes. On the way to Petaluma Valley Hospital, two minutes before arrival at the emergency room, they finally got a heartbeat.”

The whole incident came as a shock, since Aguero has no history of heart problems. He said he even had a physical just two months before having a heart attack.

Once in the ER, Dr. Rick Tietz diagnosed Aguero with sudden cardiac arrest, caused by ventricular fibrillation, which is a severely abnormal heart rhythm that interferes with the normal pumping by the heart of blood, thereby cutting off blood flow to the brain and other vital organs. According to a study by the National Institute of Health, the survival rate of ventricular fibrillation outside the hospital ranges from 2 percent to 25 percent.

“Giacomini starting the defibrillator immediately was key,” said Tietz.

Primary nurse Ben Schneider and his co-workers in the ER were able to stabilize Aguero for transfer to the ICU, where he was put into a state of induced hypothermia, cooling down his body temperature to preserve neurological function. All the while, his wife, Dana Aguero, and the medical team remained uncertain as to how much damage may have been caused to his brain during the heart attack.

The following day, medical staff began the process of warming Aguero's body back to normal. Dana was warned it could be up to 48 hours before her husband would show any signs of responsiveness.

“Yet, literally, they warmed him up a half of a degree and he started to wake up and was moving his toes and moving his hands and shaking his head up and down in response to my questions,” said Dana. “It was honestly a miracle.”

Aguero was transferred to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital on April 25, and regained full consciousness the following morning. At Memorial's Heart and Vascular Institute, Aguero received an implantable defibrillator to regulate his heart rhythm. He was released from the hospital on May 3 and has since gone back to work. He suffered no brain damage from the heart attack and said he feels good and healthy. He's also playing tennis again. But he has not forgotten everyone who played a part in saving his life that day on the tennis court.

Aguero and his wife returned to Petaluma Valley Hospital on July 14 for a reunion with many of the people involved with saving his life, including Giacomini, Tietz, Schneider and ICU nurses Cindy Lohrentz and Jean Marie Zak-Mangon. The group was all smiles and applause as a grateful and healthy looking Aguero walked up to the ER doors to greet staff.

“I'm grateful for all you did for me,” said Aguero to the PVH medical team. “You saved my life.”

Aguero added that he's making it his mission to tell people the importance of getting CPR training and AED training, and that AEDs need to be available in more public places.

“It was a very traumatic experience for my wife, and she speaks volumes about how everyone in Petaluma responded. The emergency responders and staff at PVH were amazing. I know of probably 50 people who have learned CPR and AED training because of this case and the difference it can make. Without CPR, I probably wouldn't be sitting at my desk working today.”

“Every moment of that day, he just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” said Dana. “There definitely was someone looking out for him.”

(Contact Yovanna Bieberich at yovanna.bieberich@arguscourier.com)

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