Mom gives thanks, scales back after medical crisis
Lucille Grippo may never know why she suffered cardiac arrest and didn’t have a pulse for more than 30 minutes on June 15.
After coming out of a coma June 25, the Poughquag mom spent a month each at Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie and Burke Rehabilitation Hospital in White Plains. She has a defibrillator and pacemaker implanted in her chest. And, she has lost peripheral vision.
With everything she’s been through, there are a few things of which she is certain.
“I am thankful for so much,” the 45-year-old mother-of-three said. “I have also let a lot go and I will continue to do that.”
Millions across the country Thursday will celebrate Thanksgiving with football, food and family. At the Grippo home, the Thanksgiving celebration will be scaled back. But it will be no less meaningful.
“I have a new appreciation for life,” said Lucille, who has worked in marketing, as a teacher’s assistant in the Arlington Central School District and at a pre-school.
Thanksgiving for the Grippos typically means 25 people at Lucille’s house or the home of her husband’s aunt. They switch off each year.
This year was to be Lucille’s turn, but she’ll only host 10 people. To help out, her sister-in-law will bring dessert. Her mother-in-law will make the appetizers.
“The family understands,” she said. “Next year, I’ll take it back.”
Lucille Grippo had no pulse for at least 35 minutes on June 25. As a result, Thanksgiving 2016 has taken on new meaning. John W. Barry/Poughkeepsie Journal
Despite all that has happened to Lucille, some Thanksgiving traditions will remain.
She will still be up early to place the turkey in the oven with her husband, Patrick, a 43-year-old podiatrist. The Thanksgiving Day Parade will be on television in the morning. And the entire family, including son Nicholas, 14, and daughters Mia, 11, and Audrey, 8, will enjoy a hearty breakfast of pancakes and bacon together.
Guests will arrive around noon and the adults will visit with each other. The aroma from the turkey will fill the house.
Nicholas typically watches football on television. Mia and Audrey likely will head downstairs to play with their cousin. The appetizers will come out around 2 p.m. Dinner will be served at 4. Before any food is eaten, everyone says what they are thankful for.
Lucille on Thanksgiving Day is typically in the throes of cooking. With preparations in the works for 25 people, she would normally be joined in the kitchen by her mother-in-law, two aunts and her sister-in-law.
“Too many cooks in the kitchen, but in a good way,” she said.
That’s all scaled back this year, and Lucille will be allowing others to help her. She is, however, insisting on making the stuffing and the mashed potatoes.
“I like my recipes the best,” she said.
Another change this year will the table setting. Lucille typically has the Thanksgiving dinner table set a week in advance, so she is freed up for other tasks — but not this year.
“I’m not setting the table,” she said last week.
The measured approach with which Lucille now approaches life stands in stark contrast to the urgency and immediacy that engulfed her in the early morning hours of June 15.
That’s when Patrick heard his wife gasping for air, then watched her take what he believed would be her last two breaths. Patrick performed CPR for the first time in his life and called 911.
Dutchess County Deputy Sheriff Steve Price arrived, performed CPR and applied a defibrillator.
Paramedic Ed Becker of Poughkeepsie-based EMStar Paramedic and Ambulance Service and his colleague, EMT Susan Puggioni, then arrived. Becker inserted a breathing tube and applied his own defibrillator eight times.
Puggioni assisted Becker while members of the Beekman Fire District continued with CPR. Dutchess County Deputy Sheriff Phillip LeMere helped get Lucille from the house into an ambulance.
She was in full cardiac arrest.
Becker and Puggioni were on the scene for 26 minutes when Lucille’s pulse returned inside the house, following the eighth “shock” from the defibrillator. She had no pulse for at least 35 minutes.
At Vassar Brothers Medical Center, Lucille was in the Intensive Care Unit on a ventilator for seven days, and she had a feeding tube. After coming out of the coma on June 25, she did not speak until July 3.
Lucille was told she suffered cardiac arrest due to unknown causes. But as uncertainty surrounds her past, doctors offered clarity on the prognosis for her heart.
“Everything is good,” she said.
Prior to June 15, Lucille had been in good health. She had run seven marathons. But looking back, there may have been hints of her looming health issue.
There was dizziness, migraine headaches and the sweats. In April, Lucille passed out while giving blood.
“I didn’t think it was my heart,” she said. “I thought, ‘I’m not good at giving blood, I’ll never do that again.’”
A remarkable thing
Lucille’s recovery has been as dramatic as the ailment that afflicted her.
Dr. Daniel O’Dea, who served as chief of cardiology at Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie for 10 years, said less than 10 percent of those who suffer out-of-hospital cardiac arrest survive, in the short term or long term.
“This is really a remarkable thing,” said O’Dea, who is now vice president for cardiovascular services at Health Quest, which operates Vassar Brothers.
She continues to see doctors and has seen a geneticist.
Lucille said her new outlook on life is shaping her perspective on Thanksgiving.
For example she said, for guests coming to her house for Thanksgiving, “It’s O.K. if you only bring a bag of potato chips. In the past, I would be, ‘who does that?’”
In the midst of all that she continued to get done for Thanksgiving this week, Lucille never lost sight of all that has unfolded since June.
“It’s very surreal to me,” she said. “‘I’ve thought to myself, ‘Wow, maybe I wouldn’t have been doing all of this.’ If you saw me when I left rehab, I couldn’t do anything. They had to teach me everything and that is the truth — how to use utensils, how to cook, how to write.”
But her health travails have not diminished her outlook on life. She remains emboldened following that night in June and the more than five months she has spent recovering.
“Now, I’m O.K. asking for help and letting a lot of things go,” she said. “I don’t sweat the small things. Things that bothered me before, even people, I don’t really care.”
She continued, “It’s very freeing. I look at myself and I cannot believe that I used to be that way, getting upset over small things. I don’t want to get caught up in drama.”
Patrick called his wife’s recovery “a gift from God, a miracle.”
“She’s an extremely determined person,” said Patrick. “She wanted her life back in the worst way and she’s going to get it. She’s not going to let anything stand in her way.”
Looking back on June 15, Lucille said, “I’m in this body and this is a whole other person it happened to, even though it happened to me. I look at it and say, did this really happen? It happened.”
She continued, “I try not to think about it a lot. But I’m normal like anybody and I sometimes ponder over it.”
Lucille’s perspective on life has changed. And that perspective, it seems, has crystallized around Thanksgiving.
“Thanksgiving is about family and it’s about friends and it’s about getting together and really loving each other and not getting caught up in minutiae or drama,” she said.
John W. Barry: firstname.lastname@example.org, 845-437-4822, Twitter: @JohnBarryPoJo
Visit www.poughkeepsiejournal.com to watch a video report on Lucille Grippo.
According to the Library of Congress, the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony in October 1621 celebrated the autumn harvest with a three-day feast.
On Oct. 3, 1789, President George Washington proclaimed Nov. 26 to be a day of national thanksgiving and prayer after receiving Congressional requests, according to www.loc.gov.
According to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, FDR in 1941 signed legislation that set Thanksgiving Day as the fourth Thursday in November.
Did You Know?
According to the American Heart Association:
- Cardiovascular disease is the leading global cause of death, accounting for more than 17.3 million deaths each year. That number is expected to grow to more than 23.6 million by 2030.
- Nearly 801,000 people in the U.S. died from heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases in 2013. That translates into about one of every three deaths in America.
- About 2,200 Americans die each day from these diseases, one every 40 seconds.
- According to a report by the American Heart Association, the cases of 3,814 patients who were resuscitated for out-of-hospital cardiac arrests were analyzed. Some 83.9 percent of the survivors did not have significant neurological complications and were able to live independently and work.
- According to American Heart Association News, about 90 percent of the survivors without neurological complications were resuscitated in 35 minutes or less. The other 10 percent took longer than 35 minutes.
Source: Poughkeepsie Journal
Mom gives thanks, scales back after medical crisis