Heroics aboard the Cross Sound Ferry in Orient

On the day after Christmas, the 11 a.m. Cross Sound Ferry from Orient to New London was running a half-hour behind. Surely there was grumbling from weary holiday passengers who wanted to get underway. But, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. 

The crew of the John H was just boarding the last cars and preparing to leave the dock. Passengers were getting pretzels and drinks as they settled in.

Candice Vrona was heading back to Portland, Maine, after visiting her brother on Long Island for the holiday. She had just stepped into the main cabin when, she said, “There seemed to be this kind of hubbub. A bunch of people moving away from something.”

Then a woman could be heard yelling, “Help! My husband, my husband.”

Cassie Carver-Bialer, a cardiopulmonary nurse heading back to Old Towne, Maine, after she and her wife attended a baby shower in Sayville, also heard the cries for help just about five feet from where she was standing near the concession stand.

She found an unconscious man, in his mid- to late 70s, under a table in one of the booths. He had been sitting in the booth when he suddenly slumped over, the victim of an apparent heart attack. “It was pretty clear he had no pulse, no respirations,” Ms. Carver-Bialer said. He was in cardiac arrest.

With the help of a male bystander, she pulled the man out from under the table and began cardiopulmonary resuscitation. As she performed compressions — no easy feat for Ms. Carver-Bialer, who is five and a half months pregnant — she instructed her helper in giving rescue breaths.

When Ms. Vrona reached them, she identified herself as an occupational therapist, trained in CPR. She and Ms. Carver-Bialer took turns doing compressions. It is an American Heart Association recommendation to rotate, if possible, every two minutes so that the compressions remain effective as rescuers tire.

Ms. Carver-Bialer yelled to anyone who was listening to find an automated external defibrillator, a portable electronic machine that reads the heart’s rhythms and will indicate if a shock is needed to establish a life-sustaining beat in patients with two types of life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias.

Macy Lafreniere, who was captaining the John H that morning, said the deli personnel radioed to the crew that someone had passed out. Unfortunately, with the crew down on the deck and the pumps being as loud as they are, nobody heard them. The personnel then hit the danger signal, immediately getting the crew’s attention. A couple of crew members rushed to the cabin and heard the calls for an AED, which they retrieved from the wheelhouse.

When the AED arrived, Dana Lefebvre, an off-duty Riverhead police officer who had joined the rescue team and had cut off the victim’s shirt off, attached the pads to the man’s chest and delivered one shock that resuscitated him.

The man’s wife thanked them profusely — Ms. Carver-Bialer said it was clear she was in shock, even asking if she knew if she was having a boy or a girl. She told the wife they weren’t out of the woods yet. She was right.

The man’s heart quickly stopped again, and the rescuers resumed CPR. Another shock was delivered, again reviving him. “After we regained pulse and respirations the second time, he started opening his eyes and looking around but dazed,” Ms. Carver-Bailer said.

The Orient Fire Department received a 911 call from the ferry at 11:30 a.m., according to second assistant chief Richard Gillooly. Their ambulance responded, as did a Stony Brook University Hospital advanced life support provider on duty in the area, and took the man to Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport. He was then taken to Stony Brook University Hospital, where he was listed in good condition as of last week.

The man and his wife could not be reached for comment for this story.

“That half-hour delay was critical to be on shore,” Ms. Carver-Bialer said. “It certainly would have been a different story in the middle of the Sound.”

“He was very lucky,” Ms. Vrona said. “Not only did this kind of happen at the right time — a half-hour prior, he would have been driving with his spouse,” she said. “Someone’s looking over him. He pretty much had medical professionals right there. CPR was started within less than a minute — that’s very rare.”

The three women agreed it was also lucky that Cross Sound Ferry equips each vessel with an AED and an oxygen tank, part of a program started in 2008. The United States Coast Guard does not require it, according to David Riley, assistant operations manager at Cross Sound Ferry Services. Crew are trained in use of that equipment every two years.

“This is something we decided to do on our own. The company just wanted to be proactive,” Mr. Riley said.

“It’s crucial,” said Ms. Carver-Bialer, who has worked in the cardiopulmonary care unit at St. Joseph Hospital in Bangor, Maine, for five years. “CPR is great, but really you need to deliver that shock. I don’t know for certain whether we would have gotten him back without the AED.”

Medical emergencies during ferry trips are fairly common, Capt. Lafreniere said. “I recalled last year, I was on the Susan Ann, a baby had such a high temperature, she started seizing … we’re fortunate to have a lot of medical professionals taking our route quite often; we do have that to fall back on.”

This incident was different in that it occurred before the ferry left the dock. Crew members with radios walk around the cabins while the ferry is underway. This time, they were still on the deck. “Thankfully, everybody had their running shoes on that day,” the captain said.

Although they could not be reached for comment, other bystanders who played a part were John Burk, Morgan Burk and Patrick Keogl, according to Southold Town police and ferry records.

“It was a great team effort,” Ms. Lefebvre said. A police officer for 17 years, she said she knows all too well that the outcome is not always as good. “Unfortunately, we don’t get a lot of saves. It was actually nice to see someone come back.”

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Photo caption: Cars board the Cross Sound Ferry vessel Susan Anne this week. Two weeks ago, the crew of the John H and several passengers helped save the life of a man who was found unconscious. (Credit: Krysten Massa) 

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