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Chris LaPak of Copiague reunites with lifeguards, first responders who saved him

Chris LaPak, 52, of Copiague, right, shakes hands

Chris LaPak, 52, of Copiague, right, shakes hands with FDNY Lt. Rob Walsh on Sunday, Nov. 9, 2014 at St Luke's Hospital in Manhattan, where LaPak reunited with the rescuers who saved his life after he went into cardiac arrest during the 2014 New York City Triathlon. Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

Doctors had given triathlete Chris LaPak of Copiague up for dead after he suffered a heart attack while competing in the Hudson River in August.

But a little more than three months later, he is running and swimming again -- and grateful to those who saved his life.

LaPak, 52, who has a family history of heart disease, stopped breathing for 11 minutes after he was plucked from the waters of the Hudson on Aug. 3 while competing in the New York City Triathlon.

"I'm really a lucky guy," said a fit and tan LaPak, who was reunited Sunday with his saviors: five lifeguards, eight FDNY firefighters and EMTs, and a dozen Mount Sinai St. Luke's Hospital emergency room doctors, cardiologists, surgeons and specialists.

"The term 'miracle' is overused," said LaPak, with his wife and two children at his side in the Manhattan hospital. "I'm standing here today because of an amazing group of people who did exactly what they needed to do unselfishly. You created the miracle, not me," said LaPak, CEO of Mini Graphics in Hauppauge.

LaPak was on a ventilator for almost four days before he woke up. Doctors were still uncertain he would fully recover.

"We thought we had a dead person in our emergency room. There was no blood supply. No one believed that you would survive," said Dr. Eyal Herzog, director of Mount Sinai St. Luke's cardiac care unit. He showed live images of LaPak's heart on a giant screen at the emotional reunion.

When LaPak was pulled from the water, he was purple, hyperventilating, twitching and "staring into space," said Jones Beach lifeguard Dan Perlmutter, 35, of Setauket. He was on a paddleboard near 80th Street in Manhattan when he saw LaPak flailing in the waves.

Perlmutter jumped in, wrapped his arms around LaPak and held him up to keep his face out of the water. "I tried to get him onto the board but I couldn't do it. One of the other athletes, I don't know who he is . . . a silent hero . . . helped lift Chris onto the board," Perlmutter recalled.

Lifeguard Cary Epstein, 34, of Hewlett, who was riding a water scooter, was already on his way with a sled. With the help of two other lifeguards, LaPak was placed into the sled.

He was transferred to the FDNY Marine Rescue 1 boat, and firefighter Dean Tartaro, 47, of Holbrook administered CPR as the craft raced 50 mph to an FDNY ambulance. Paramedics opened LaPak's airways while rushing him to the ER, where doctors waited.

That kept LaPak's heart muscles alive, Herzog said. LaPak then received hypothermia treatment to cool his body to 91.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

"The cooling therapy acts as protection for the brain and other vital organ tissues," Herzog said. LaPak, who was hospitalized for 16 days, also underwent two bypass surgeries and had a cardioverter-defibrillator implanted near his collarbone to keep his heart from suddenly stopping again.

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