Alexander Palma, of Huntington Station, second from left, with his wife,...

Alexander Palma, of Huntington Station, second from left, with his wife, Rina Palma, reunited with duo who saved his life — Northwell Health EMT Brian Krummenacker and paramedic Kevin Pantaleon — at Northwell’s annual "Second Chance" luncheon on Tuesday. Credit: Rick Kopstein

Alexander Palma was inside an MRI machine on March 10, 2023, for a routine follow-up exam after being diagnosed with congestive heart failure when something felt terribly wrong.

He pushed the panic button but he said the imaging center staff insisted the test would be over momentarily. 

Palma, 73, of Huntington Station, didn't have the luxury of waiting an extra minute, as he passed out inside the machine and went into cardiac arrest.

That's when the duo of Northwell Health EMT Brian Krummenacker  and his partner, paramedic Kevin Pantaleon, arrived at the scene, taking over CPR from a facility nurse and using a defibrillator to restore his heartbeat, as Palma's frantic wife looked on.

On Tuesday, Palma and four other cardiac arrest victims were reunited with the medical staff who saved their lives during Northwell's “Second Chance” luncheon in New Hyde Park.

“They were gods to me,” Palma said as he stood side-by-side with Krummenacker and Pantaleon for the first time since the incident. “God gave me my life. But they saved it.”

Emergency responders, Krummenacker said, rarely get a chance to revisit a patient and see how they've recovered.

“To actually see him doing well … it's a breath of fresh air,” he said.

The annual luncheon and awards ceremony, part of National EMS Week, gives New Yorkers who were given a “second chance” at life an opportunity to re-connect with the emergency responders who pulled them back from the brink of death.

 “When you see survivors — people who were pretty much dead and now they were brought back and given a second chance … it changes everything,” said Alan Schwalberg, Northwell's vice president of emergency medical services.“They get to spend more time with their loved ones; their kids and their grandchildren. It really hits home for our people.”

The event is named for Michael Guttenberg, Northwell's former medical director of clinical preparedness and a Ground Zero first responder who died in 2017, nearly five years after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Gene Tangney, Northwell's crisis management officer and Guttenberg's former partner, said EMTs and paramedics thrive in moments of chaos — when split-second decisions mean the difference between life and death.

“You made a sacrifice. You trained. You stepped forward. You made a difference," Tangney said of the first responders in attendance. “You can honestly say leaving this room today that you saved a life. And I don't know of a greater gift to tell your children.”

Howard Lynch, 79, of Rosedale, Queens, was among those relishing a chance to reunite with the EMS crew who rushed to his home on Dec. 14, 2022, after he suffered a heart attack.

Howard Lynch and his wife Glenda of Rosedale, Queens speak...

Howard Lynch and his wife Glenda of Rosedale, Queens speak about the crew who saved his life at Northwell’s annual 2nd Chance Luncheon recognizing EMS professionals for providing critical, life-saving care. Credit: Rick Kopstein

Lynch, who never lost consciousness, was defibrillated back into a slow heart rhythm, only to experience four separate cardiac incidents in the ambulance that required frequent changes in treatment methods. An EKG revealed Lynch was having a second heart attack.

“I would like to pour my heart out to them,” Lynch said of the crew who saved his life. “Because without them, I wouldn't be here … I just can't thank them enough.”

Northwell paramedic supervisor Francis Pollicino said less than 10% of cardiac arrest victims survive the experience. 

Paul Grener, right of New Hyde Park spoke about the...

Paul Grener, right of New Hyde Park spoke about the crew who saved his life. From left: Francis Pollicino, Geordy Garcia and Yvette Mrozik at Northwell’s annual 2nd Chance Luncheon recognizing EMS professionals for providing critical, life-saving care. Credit: Rick Kopstein

One of the few exceptions was retired Nassau County Fire Marshal Paul Gerner, 75, of New Hyde Park, who collapsed in September 2022 while teaching a course on propane safety to the staff of the Hempstead Home Depot.

“I have no memories of it,” Gerner said. “I was standing there talking to somebody and then I was in the hospital.”

Pollicino, a family friend of Gerner, along with Northwell paramedic Yvette Mrozik and Hempstead Police Officer Geordy Garcia, arrived on the scene within moments and were able to resuscitate him.

Mrozik said she had “goose bumps” meeting Gerner, who served in the New Hyde Park Fire Department for 50 years, including as chief.

“It's very heartwarming and very touching,” she said. “It's an amazing feeling.”

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