Featured Story

Column: A witness to heroism

BOB DeSTEFANO PHOTO Lifesavers Gary Cardillo, left, and Brian Lechamanski.
Lifesavers Gary Cardillo, left, and Brian Lechamanski.

Sometimes things are not what they seem.

For instance, I have been taking courses for 60 years to prepare for the day when I can help someone who has a sudden medical problem. I always wanted to be ready, to be the hero, to save someone’s life. I knew it would be the greatest gift I could ever give.

I had my chance a couple of nights ago. My son and I were out for dinner at the Flying Goat Restaurant with long-time friends Gary and Gail Cardillo. We were sitting on the outside porch. Not more than two feet away from my shoulder was a woman in another group of three with her husband and her son.

I didn’t know these folks. I noticed during dinner that the woman in the group turned her body around to look outside. I motioned to Gary if anything was wrong and he looked at her and shrugged his shoulders. The classic signs of someone putting their hands to their throat indicating they couldn’t breathe weren’t evident.

Then it happened. She could not talk. The son asked: Can anyone do the Heimlich? It was confusing because the woman did not seem to be in distress. It was my moment to finally use all my years of training. But Gary got their first. He was on his feet, lifting her out of the chair and immediately starting the Heimlich maneuver.

He was confused, not knowing if she was choking or having a heart attack.

No food was popping out as he expected. She lost consciousness, fell against Gary and then to the ground.

I watched, with all my training,  as other people took over. I did yell, “Is there a doctor in the house?” My son immediately called 911. On-duty Officer Anthony Rando was there in what seemed to be an instant.

Time was passing and the woman was totally out. A woman who identified herself as Mrs. Lawrence came over and said, “Everybody out of my way.” Mrs. Lawrence gave some tugs and talked to the woman. I found out she is a career nurse.

The woman was still out. Looking at her husband I was sure he was thinking he’d lost her. His son was attending him as he couldn’t hold back tears.

Brian Lechmanski came running across the room and immediately took over the situation. The woman was still out but Brian never stopped speaking to her, assuring her that everything was all right. He then gave her some heavy-duty tugs with the Heimlich maneuver.

Brian noticed that her mouth opened slightly. He finally put his hand in her mouth and swept out some mushy fish. Like a miracle, her eyes opened slowly. Brian had saved her life, He and Mrs. Lawrence continued to talk to her. They kept assuring her that she was all right.

Officer Rando had set up an oxygen device and put the cup over her mouth. She was alive, her eyes were open and she said a few words. She was upset that she was making a scene and asked Joann,the manager, to continue taking care of the restaurant. Joann said, “The restaurant is fine. We’re worried about you.”

She was brave and sweet to worry about inconveniencing others when her life was at stake.

At that time, America’s fastest ambulance crew was on the scene. They were putting her on a gurney as she was saying she didn’t want to go. They took her straight to Eastern Long Island Hospital.

I looked for Brian. He had walked out to the first tee of the golf course and sat all alone on the bench in the dark, shaking and completely exhausted. He said that everything he did was taught to him by Phil Powers.

I will never forget my feelings and what these brave and caring Islanders did for their fellow human one summer evening on Shelter Island.

A message to remember is people in trouble don’t have to exhibit the usual warning signs of choking for something to be happening.

I was not a hero, but I witnessed heroism.

I stayed out of the way, yelled for a doctor and left a nice piece of carrot cake and a cold cup of coffee untouched.