It was just a single gasp, as if he'd come up from underwater, but that was the signal the people bent over Mark Moskwa were hoping for: It meant the Sayville school district custodian was breathing again.
Moskwa, 59, was sweeping a hallway at the high school at 11:45 a.m. on Nov. 20 when his heart stopped. He collapsed on his back in the science wing, near the nurse's office.
Students who saw him alerted nearby teachers, and Moskwa was surrounded by school nurses, their aides and staff. Science teacher Jim Knote, trained in resuscitation techniques, said Moskwa had no pulse.
The staff took turns giving chest compressions, and they shocked him five times with an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) before he took his first breath.
"It was very minimal, but he was taking in oxygen," said Knote, one of the first to arrive at Moskwa's side.
It took 15 minutes for an ambulance to arrive to take him to Southside Hospital in Bay Shore.
"His stars were aligned," said Ellen Gugliotta, a school nurse. "He had been up on the roof a half-hour before."
Moskwa underwent emergency coronary surgery and doctors put a pacemaker/defibrillator in his chest to regulate his heart if it gives out again. He spent the next two days unconscious, waking on Thanksgiving.
Tuesday, still sore from his surgery, he returned to campus to thank those he said saved his life.
"It takes a particular kind of individual to step up to the plate," Moskwa said, recounting their efforts.
He wouldn't have made it, he said, without the AED or without staff trained to help in such an emergency.
And when his own children caught the acting bug, he volunteered to build the sets, crafting a house on wheels for his daughter's performance in "The Wizard of Oz."
A former Marine, Moskwa started working as a custodian for the district last spring.
His son, Mark, 21, said his dad has always been quick to volunteer at the district and he's glad he got help when he needed it most.
"I'm incredibly grateful for everyone who was here at that time," Moskwa's son said. "For someone whose heart stopped a week ago, he looks fantastic."