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Quick response at Health Center saves faculty member’s life

by Chris DeFrancesco - October 29, 2007

For more than four years, Leo Lefrancois and Sara-Jayne Nocera have been reporting to work on the third floor for the UConn Health Center’s main building.

If their paths crossed in the hallway, it was never long enough for them to formally meet, even though their offices are around the corner from each other.

They finally met last month – in the emergency room at John Dempsey Hospital. Nocera, a transportation aide, had gone there to check on a stranger whose life she tried to save moments earlier.

The “stranger” was Lefrancois, head of the Division of Immunology in the School of Medicine.

Lefrancois was entering the building one morning in September, when he started feeling dizzy.

“I stepped aside, thinking ‘I’ll recover in a minute or two,’” he says, “but at that point, I was going down. I woke up looking into the face of some paramedics and wondering what happened.”

He didn’t find out until later that his heart had stopped.

With help from Nocera, however, he was out for less than three minutes, and within an hour, he was in the Health Center’s cardiac catheterization lab getting stents to open three arterial blockages.

Nocera remembers hearing commotion as she came to work that morning. When she saw a man fall to the floor, she checked his pulse and began CPR.

Transportation aides are required to have CPR certification, but this was the first time Nocera had to put that training to use.

She and a colleague continued administering CPR until paramedics from the fire department arrived.

“Sara’s quick reaction and initiation of CPR helped prevent a lack of oxygen to his brain and other vital organs,” says nursing manager Debra Abromaitis.

“His quick and complete recovery is a direct result of her timely actions.”

Dr. Kanwar Singh, one of the interventional cardiologists who treated Lefrancois, says, “Most patients who suffer cardiac arrest die in the field, more than 50 percent. Whoever resuscitated him in the field clearly saved his life.”

Lefrancois, 51, is in generally good health, and not the typical heart attack candidate. There is a family history of cardiac problems, he says, but a recent EKG was fine.

After four days in the hospital and a week out of work, he shows no ill effects from what was determined to be a mild heart attack.

“The ER people, the cardiology people, the ICU crew, everybody was great,” he says.

“It’s a testimony to the quality of the cardiology group as well as to the dedication and initiative of all the employees, particularly Sara, in being very quick to respond.”

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