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Woman reunites with officers who raced her to get new heart

Suffolk officers last August cleared traffic to escort Angela Tempio, of Mount Sinai, to the Bronx for a heart transplant. On Thursday, the officers were honored at a ceremony at police headquarters in Yaphank. Credit: News 12 Long Island

While she waited 14 years for a new heart, Angie Tempio imagined what the day of her transplant operation would be like.

The Mount Sinai woman saw herself arriving at the hospital with her family. Then she would "calmly walk in listening to music."

"We all know that's not what happened," Tempio said Thursday, exactly one year after the operation that prolonged her life. "It was definitely a rough ride."

Tempio, 26, and her family came to Suffolk police headquarters in Yaphank to thank the two police officers whose high-speed trek got her from Farmingville to Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx in time for the procedure.

Tempio expressed her gratitude to the police and reflected on what their simple act of heroism meant to her.

"It's my new birthday," she said.

Tempio, who works in an orthodontist's office though she is unable to work as she recovers from transplant surgery, had been diagnosed at age 11 with restrictive cardiomyopathy, a birth defect that causes the walls of the heart's lower chambers to become too rigid, said Helen Irving, president and chief executive of LiveOnNY. The Manhattan-based nonprofit coordinates organ donations in the metropolitan region.

Were it not for the transplant, Tempio's heart eventually would have become too weak to pump blood properly, Irving said.

Last Aug. 6, Tempio was home when the phone rang — a match for her had been found. But she had to get to the Bronx. She had only two or three hours to get there.

Sgt. Thomas Seifert and Officer Patrick Morash of the highway patrol unit were just starting their shifts in Farmingdale when they got the call to escort Tempio to the hospital. They drove 20 miles to pick up Tempio at a Farmingville park-and-ride lot, then turned around for the mad dash to the Bronx.

Seifert said they made the 55-mile run in about 45 minutes, sometimes traveling on the highway shoulder as they called ahead to other police agencies to help block traffic.

"As with all transplant calls, time was of the essence," Suffolk Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said Thursday. "The highway patrol stepped up to the challenge."

Tempio said she never panicked as she rode in Seifert's car while he followed Morash through congested roads and navigated a lane closure on the Throgs Neck Bridge.

"I was calm. I was calling my mom," she said. 

Tempio still bears a visible scar from the surgery, but at the news conference she appeared ebullient and energetic. Since the successful surgery, she has had what she called a few "bumps in the road," but her prognosis is good.

She said she encouraged herself during her recovery by reminding herself of the new life that awaited her.

"I'm getting there. I'm getting there," she said. "And now I'm at a point where I'm feeling my best."

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