(NEW YORK) — Henry Ray Fischbach, a jazz singer from New York City, was playing a show at a neighborhood restaurant in July when he collapsed mid-performance.
“I was feeling fine until that last number and as I was performing that song, I started to feel very light-headed and weak,” Fischbach, who goes by the stage name Henry Ray, told Good Morning America. “I thought I was just very dehydrated.”
Fischbach, 66, had actually gone into cardiac arrest and his heart stopped beating.
As his wife and fellow concertgoers screamed for help, three doctors who happened to stop by the restaurant for an after-work drink rushed the stage to help.
“We could see he was on the floor and on his side,” said Dr. Matthew Simhon, an orthopedic surgery resident at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “His skin was very blue. We didn’t feel any pulse. He wasn’t breathing whatsoever.”
Simhon and his colleagues, Dr. Andrew Luzzi, also an orthopedic surgery resident at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, and Dr. Marc Dyrszka, a spine surgeon affiliated with NewYork-Presbyterian Och Spine, immediately began doing chest compressions on Fischbach to bring him back to life.
The trio of doctors worked on him for more than 10 minutes, until paramedics arrived with a more advanced defibrillator that successfully got Fischbach’s heart beating again.
Once he was in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, Fischbach was alert and able to realize how severe his condition had been.
“One of the EMTs in the ambulance told me, ‘You just died twice,"” recalled Fischbach. “He told me that there were doctors in the audience, but I had been unaware during the show that I was standing a few feet away from guys who would change my life, who would save my life.”
Fischbach was rushed to NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, where he had a stent put in his left coronary artery to relieve the blockage.
During his time in the hospital and after being discharged home, Fischbach never knew the names of the three doctors who had saved his life and never got to thank them.
That changed on Aug. 27, when, just one month after suffering cardiac arrest, Fischbach returned to the stage at the same restaurant where he collapsed.
The three doctors were in the audience that night, thanks to the restaurant owner who invited them to come back to meet Fischbach.
“I got the chance to express the inexpressible, the gratitude for saving my life,” said Fischbach. “I dedicated that evening to the three of them and the gift of life and the gift of being able to celebrate music that evening.”
“They are the nicest, most humble doctors,” he added. “It’s amazing and they’re just like, ‘This is what we do."”
Simhon and Luzzi said they were just grateful to be in the “right place at the right time.”
“Out of hospital cardiac arrest survival rate is very low, so it felt really good that we were able to contribute to his good outcome,” said Simhon. “It was really amazing that we were able to return him back to his life.”
Luzzi described seeing Fischbach back on stage after saving his life as a “mix of emotions.”
“Relief is one, gratitude is another for being in the right place at the right time and surprise is another one,” he said. “He was back in relatively short order up and dancing and singing again, which is pretty unusual.”
Both doctors also stressed the importance of people learning CPR and chest compressions so they too can step in and help in an emergency.
“To be able to do CPR, it really is the difference between life and death,” said Luzzi. “Unless someone else there also knew CPR and did what we did, [Fischbach] very likely would not have survived.”
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