'Miracle': Defibrillator used to save granddad at school
When Erin Cancro dropped off her daughters at school Thursday morning, it hit her just how close she had come to losing her father.
That's because her dad, Peter Clarke, 61, of Smithtown, had collapsed in cardiac arrest during drop-off Wednesday morning at Trinity Regional School in East Northport -- only to be saved by two off-duty police officers, an off-duty firefighter and a school nurse using an automated external defibrillator.
That defibrillator was hanging on a wall within arm's reach of where Clarke collapsed face-first onto the floor. The emergency responders -- Northport Village police Officer Pete Howard, MTA police Lt. Alex Lindsay and Greenlawn Fire Department advanced life support provider Mario Geddes -- all were dropping off their children and stood within feet of Clarke.
"I was there this morning," Cancro said, "and I saw where he was standing and I saw where the defibrillator was and . . To me, it's a miracle that he's OK. . . . At the hospital they explained to me that, had this happened and he wasn't where he was, he wouldn't be here."
Instead, Clarke was in stable condition Thursday at Huntington Hospital, where he was taken by East Northport Fire Department ambulance.
Help at hand
The scene unfolded just after 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, as children were arriving for the second day of preschool classes.
Howard, whose late father, Robert, was the Northport police chief, said he had just walked into the foyer with his 4-year-old daughter and 18-month-old son when "out of the corner of my eye I saw this man go straight as a board and fall face-first on the floor."
The 16-year member of the Northport Police Department said he ran to Clarke -- and immediately recognized him. Clarke, he said, had attended his father's funeral last year, the two having known each other from dropping off their grandkids on school mornings.
Clarke, a retired mechanic who immigrated to the United States from Ireland as a teenager, had no visible pulse, Howard said.
Howard, 41, said he called for the defibrillator and asked someone to call 911. Suffolk County police said they got that 911 call at 8:39 a.m.
Hearing the commotion, the school nurse, Kathy Schildhorn, ran from her office to assist.
"Mr. Howard helped position the man," she said. "Mr. Lindsay got the defibrillator out of the case. Mr. Geddes was taking down vital information."
Howard and Schildhorn positioned the defibrillator pads on Clarke's chest and, Schildhorn said, applied the first electric shock in an attempt to restart his heart.
"You have to wait between 30 and 60 seconds before you can do it again," Howard said. "It seemed like forever."
Then they shocked Clarke again, and again nothing.
Standing nearby, Trinity Principal Jeanne Morcone said she turned away, instead focusing on keeping parents and their children from the foyer area, as Assistant Principal Patricia Ayers went outside to direct traffic and wait for arriving emergency responders.
"I saw, initially, by the way they were working on him, I thought, 'This is not good,' " Morcone said. "I didn't want the children to see what was happening."
Third time's a charm
Then Clarke was hit with a third shock.
To the surprise of nearly everyone, Howard said, "He just opened his eyes, looked up and said, 'What happened? What's going on here?' "
And then everyone knew.
"I thought, this is a miracle, that's what went through my mind," Schildhorn said.
Schildhorn said a defibrillator was so close at hand because of Louis' Law, which mandates all schools be equipped with the devices. It was enacted in 2002 by then-Gov. George Pataki.
The law was sparked by the death of Northport High School freshman Louis Acompora, 14, who died in 2000 after being hit in the chest with a ball while playing goalie in a lacrosse game.
As a police officer, Howard said he had used defibrillators about a dozen times. Until Wednesday, though, the outcome had never been positive.
"I'm glad he made it. It doesn't happen often that it turns out like this," he said.
"He's a very lucky little leprechaun," Cancro said of her Irish-immigrant father as she headed to the hospital to visit him Thursday. "Very lucky."