Life savers

Ironman 70.3 Lake Placid honors EMS workers, volunteers for saving athlete’s life

Ironman 70.3 Lake Placid Race Director Greg Borzilleri, right, shakes the hand of Lake Placid Volunteer Ambulance Service member Wolf Mueller Thursday, Nov. 15, during a ceremony to thank EMS workers for saving an athlete’s life during the Sept. 9 race. (Enterprise photo — Andy Flynn)

LAKE PLACID — After finishing the 1.2-mile swim and 56-mile bike sections of the Ironman 70.3 Lake Placid triathlon on Sunday, Sept. 9, a 38-year-old fitness trainer from Portugal was almost finished with the 13.1-mile run on Mirror Lake Drive when he collapsed of a cardiac arrest.

Thanks to the quick and persistent efforts of EMS workers and volunteers, that athlete — Nuno Neves — is alive today.

“He was able to walk out of the hospital in Plattsburgh and go home because of you,” Ironman 70.3 Lake Placid Race Director Greg Borzilleri told a group of almost 20 EMS workers and volunteers who saved Neves’s life. “Someday you will tell this story to his little girls. He will be forever grateful for all of you as you gave him a chance to see them grow up.”

Borzilleri and his Ironman team held a thank-you ceremony Thursday evening, Nov. 15, at the Lake Placid Beach House. Invited guests — such as Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall, town of North Elba Councilman Jay Rand, town of Keene Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson and Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism CEO Jim McKenna — looked on as local Ironman officials told the life-saving story and handed certificates to these “heroes,” as Borzilleri called them.

“This was a come-to-Jesus moment for me,” Borzilleri said. “I’ve been working for Ironman since 2011, and this is the first cardiac event. This is the first time we’ve had someone pass away and brought back to life on the course in Lake Placid.”

Ironman 70.3 Lake Placid Race Director Greg Borzilleri, right, shakes the hand of Saranac Lake Volunteer Rescue Squad member Jerry Stewart Thursday, Nov. 15, during a ceremony to thank EMS workers for saving an athlete’s life during the Sept. 9 race. (Enterprise photos — Andy Flynn)

Both Borzilleri and Ironman 70.3 Lake Placid Medical Director Tracey Viola, a sports medicine doctor in Lake Placid, told the story as it unfolded, from their viewpoints. Viola was in the medical tent with co-captain Cora Clark at the time of the incident.

“It was right before noon,” Viola said. “I got a phone call from our Ironman command center on my cellphone. … The voice on the other end said we had a 38-year-old male down on the course and CPR is on progress.”

A witness who saw Neves collapse started screaming and called 911. Ironman volunteer Cassie Sellars was one of the Ironman volunteer nurses who started CPR immediately. As CPR was in progress, athlete Sean Caffyn, an emergency room doctor from Connecticut, got off his bike to help, and then he got back on his bike and finished the race.

EMS crews from Lake Placid and Saranac Lake were on scene within 5 minutes of the 911 call.

By this time, athletes were already crossing the finish line at the Olympic Speedskating Oval, and Borzilleri was there greeting the winners when he got a call from Lake Placid Assistant Chief of Police Chuck Dobson.

“All he said was, ‘We have a code on Mirror Lake Drive.’ My heart dropped,” Borzilleri said. “I hopped on my scooter and raced over.”

Borzilleri rerouted the cyclists to give the first responders some room to work on Neves.

“I was losing hope that he wouldn’t recover,” Borzilleri said. “Here was a truly fit, fast and youthful athlete laying in the road just minutes from the finish line, and despite all the skills exhibited by our first responders, 10 minutes had gone by with no response. Eleven minutes in, I heard the best four words ever: ‘We have a pulse.'”

Neves was then transported to the emergency room at AMC Lake Placid on Church Street, where he was further stabilized and then flown by the North Country Life Flight helicopter to the CVPH Medical Center in Plattsburgh.

“So from every single level, if you could plan this out, it could not have happened any better,” Viola said. “And it’s because of every single one of those steps that happened perfectly that this man survived.”

One of those important steps was CPR, according to Viola.

“I have a message for the public. Please learn CPR,” she said. “You never know when you may need it. It could be your own husband or wife, your own child or parent, a friend or a stranger. You can save a life, and not only will it change that person’s life, we all know that it will change your life as well.”

Those who were honored at the Nov. 15 ceremony at the Lake Placid Beach House included: Cassie Sellars, Ironman volunteer; Sean Caffyn, athlete; Arron Barney, Lake Placid Volunteer Ambulance Service; Jeff McGreggor, Saranac Lake Volunteer Rescue Squad; Jerry Stewart, SLVRS; Mike Marshall, LPVAS; Larry Brockway, LPVAS; Wolf Mueller, LPVAS; Don Dunworth, LPVAS; Melissa Furnia, LPVAS; Tisha Siddell, LPVAS; Ryan Siddell, LPVAS; Sue Sweeney, AMC Lake Placid; Billy Martin, North Country Life Flight; John Heverly, North Country Life Flight (pilot that flew out the athlete); Cora Clark, Ironman medical team; and Julie Barney, AMC Lake Placid.