Months after heart attack, Mattituck man runs again

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Pete Orlowski approaches the finish line accompanied by, from left, his daughter Jacy, his wife Debbie, and his trainer Kerry Butler.
KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Pete Orlowski approaches the finish line accompanied by, from left, his daughter Jacy, his wife Debbie, and his trainer Kerri Butler.

More than a thousand people celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday by running in the Mattituck-Cutchogue Teachers Association’s 7th annual 5K Turkey Trot. Among them was a man celebrating a second chance at life.

The Jamesport Fire Department’s Sound to Bay 10K in August could have been the last race for Pete Orlowski, a 38-year member of the Mattituck Fire Department, who collapsed on the course after suffering a cardiac arrest

Happily, August was but a memory last Thursday when, arms held high in a personal victory, Mr. Orlowski crossed the Turkey Trot finish line accompanied by his wife, Debbie, daughter Jacy and trainer Kerri Butler of Tola Body fitness center in Mattituck.

Mr. Orlowski’s granddaughter Myah also participated in the Thanksgiving run, a far happier experience than what she and her grandmother went through in Jamesport.

Back then, Ms. Orlowski and Myah had waited patiently at the finish line and moved out of the way to let an ambulance through the crowd. They had no way of knowing that the ambulance was on its way to rescue Mr. Orlowski, who at the time was receiving CPR from two other runners and Ms. Butler.

Ms. Butler said the experience was her first with cardiac arrest, but she grabbed Mr. Orlowski as he fell and helped him gently to the ground while someone called 911.

“We all participated in CPR and then the paddles came,” she said of herself and the two runners, registered nurse Eileen Corcoran and Suffolk County police officer James Zappula, who dropped out of the race to assist Mr. Orlowski.

Mr. Orlowski, who was outfitted with a stent for arterial blockage and a combination pacemaker/defibrillator for his arrhythmia, following the Aug. 26 incident, said he now “feels like a million bucks” and took a “very conservative” approach to the Thanksgiving Day race.

Taking it easy, Mr. Orlowski said he mixed running with walking to avoid pushing himself too hard.

“I’ve changed the whole way I look at things,” he said of life since the Jamesport race. “I take it one day at a time now and I’m not rushing everything. It felt good to be there with all the people and it’s just nice to know that some 80 days ago I was lying down on the ground and now I’m doing the Turkey Trot.”

That day changed his life, but it didn’t change him, said Ms. Butler.

“He’s Pete,” the trainer said. “He’s the same guy he was, but he’s listening to his body more and pulling back. He’s been an inspiration in the past year for all of us who have trained with him at Tola Body. He’s been a big part of the family. To see him bounce back like that, it brought a lot of perspective on just how grateful we all are to be together and for what we have.”