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Time to save a life: Shelter Island EMS takes home prestigious award

AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO An ambulance left the Shelter Island EMS headquarters one day last summer on a call that resulted in a life saved and a prestigious award presented to the the Island's first responders.

AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO An ambulance left the Shelter Island EMS headquarters one day last summer on a call that resulted in a life saved and a prestigious award presented to the the Island’s first responders.

What led to a prestigious award for the Shelter Island Emergency Medical Services, one of only two presented by Stony Brook University Hospital (SBUH) for all EMS units dealing with strokes in Suffolk County, began one afternoon last summer.

An emergency page went out of man needing assistance in an Island residence and an EMS team of Mark Kanarvogel, Kevin Dunning and Katherine Rasmussen responded immediately.

EMT’s are trained that to save a life, one key is determining what’s known as “last time seen well,” or the precise time before the patient became ill, Mr. Kanarvogel said.

That’s just one of a series of questions EMTs are trained to ask to help save lives. Mr. Kanarvogel said this patient was fortunate that there were two women present who had witnessed the event and so the time was pinpointed.

“I could put it down in very specific terms in my paperwork,” Mr. Kanarvogel said. He also questioned what medications the patient took on a regular basis and noted it.

The police were called and a helicopter requested to transfer the patient to Stony Brook.
Mr. Kanarvogel did a “finger stick,” or pricking a finger for blood to test for glucose levels. “Low blood sugar sometimes mirrors a stroke,” he said. “This patient’s blood sugar was fine. It was an obvious stroke.”

At Klenawicus Field the medevac helicopter landed and the flight paramedic recorded the Island team’s detailed information in the ambulance. The paramedic, Mr. Kanarvogel recalled, then “took one look at the patient and said, ‘We’re going. Get him out, load him up, we gotta go.’”

Eileen Conlon, stroke program coordinator for SBUH, said when a patient suffers a stroke, time is a matter of life or death.

“Time is brain,” Ms. Conlon said, using a phase common among physicians and EMTs who deal with stoke victims, meaning that the number of brain cells that are lost progresses rapidly over time.

When the Island patient arrived at the hospital, it was only 41 minutes before a “clot buster” was administered, Ms. Conlon said. She credited the work of the Island team for acquiring solid information in a timely fashion that was used by medical professionals to prepare the patient for the treatment that saved his life.

For their work, the Shelter Island EMS received an “award of excellence” at a gala dinner in Stony Brook last month, one of only two presented by SBUH for helping a patient receive life saving treatment in less than 45 minutes.

“I’ve been an EMS provider for 25 years,” Ms. Conlon said, “and I know what providers are encountering and what they’re up against every day. These are phenomenal people.”

Two weeks after loading the patient on to the medevac helicopter, Mr. Kanarvogel heard he had come home and dropped by to see him

“He was walking with just a bit of a limp,” the EMT said. “Other than that, he was totally, 100 percent recovered.”

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