Good Samaritans honored for saving man’s life after heart attack


by Katherine Hoey

Bob Short had no pulse; he was barely alive. But FDNY veteran and Selden Fire Department volunteer Cliff Lesmeister happened to be nearby.

Lesmeister came to Short’s rescue. Soon after, Olivia Hoerner — also a Selden firefighter — joined in the efforts.

Short can’t recall what happened that day on Feb. 25, but he’s since gotten to learn about Hoerner and Lesmeister — and what they did to save his life.

On Tuesday, the rest of the island got to hear the story as well, during a special ceremony and press event honoring the two good Samaritans.

They each received Stony Brook Heart Institute’s Heart Saver Community Award for delivering exemplary cardiac care within the community.

“We’re here to celebrate one man’s chance, second chance, at life,” said Dr. Robert Pyo, Stony Brook’s director of interventional cardiology and cardiac catheterization laboratories.

Short, of Coram, had suffered a heart attack while driving.

He was feeling unwell then tried to pull over, but swerved off the road. His car hit a mailbox and he ended up on a lawn, explained Diane Nerzig, Short’s mother-in-law who was also on hand Tuesday.

“The fireman happened to take a call on the cell phone and he parked across the street to take the call. If he didn’t get that call at that time, he [Short] wouldn’t be here now,” Nerzig said.

Lesmeister ran toward Short’s car. He started banging on the car’s window, trying to get Short to unlock the car, but he quickly went unconscious.

So he broke the car’s window with a hammer.

“I ran out to the car and he was semi-alert,” Lesmeister said. “And he looked at me and I was trying to get him to unlock the door but he then went unconscious,”

“Unfortunately your car was locked so I did have to break your window,” he added with a chuckle to Short, who stood beside him at a podium.

Lesmeister performed CPR right away.

But with no pulse, Short was essentially dead, said Brittany Kickel, a registered nurse and chest pain coordinator at Stony Brook.

Five minutes later, the Selden EMS/Fire Department arrived at the scene and transported Short to Stony Brook University Heart Institute.

Lesmeister, who’s been a city firefighter for 28 years, is currently working at Engine Co. 262 in Astoria. Olivia Hoerner is a member of the Selden Fire Department who also arrived at the scene to assist with CPR.

She, too, was key in reviving Short, the doctors and nurses said.

“Short suffered cervical spinal damage and acute bleeding loss, sustained secondary to his motor vehicle accident,” Kickel said.

That all prolonged his stay at Stony Brook for a total of 15 days.

Short was discharged on March 12.

“We’re able to take people who are desperately ill, who have an event that might well be considered fatal, and bring them back,” said Dr. William Lawson, director of invasive cardiology.

Heart attack victims’ chances of survival go down 10 percent for every minute that CPR is not initiated. There is also an associated risk of sustaining a substantial brain injury due to lack of blood and oxygen supply.

“When it first happened they told us there was probably no hope he was going to come out of it because they did CPR on him for 35 minutes, and they felt he wasn’t getting enough oxygen to his brain,” Nerzig said.

“But he did, and five days later they took him out of the coma and he woke up,” Nerzig said.

Survival depends on the patient and the support of the family, Lawson said. The whole time, Short’s family rallied around him.

“We all got to joyously witness him coming back to life,” Kickel said. “We didn’t skip a beat.”

The seemingly healthy 59-year-old man showed no warning signs of a heart attack.

“Sometimes a heart attack can present itself at any time, in any place, to any one,” Kickel said.

One out of five New Yorkers 65 and older reported having some type of Cardiovascular disease in 2014, according to the New York State Department of Health.

Short has a long road of recovery ahead of him but his family on Tuesday credited, fate, God and the fast-acting good Samaritans and medical staff that gave Short a second chance at life.

Hospital staffers, in turn, emphasized that Short’s survival was due to the team effort over the course of the 15-day stay.

When asked if Short remembered the event, he said no.

“I don’t even remember leaving my house,” he said.

Below are scenes from Tuesday:

Cliff Lesmeister and Bob Short got to meet Tuesday at Stony Brook.

Cliff Lesmeister and Olivia Hoerner (center) with their awards, along with family.
Cliff Lesmeister and Olivia Hoerner pose with the medical staff at Stony Brook.