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Thursday, 21 June 2012 15:53

Matters of the Heart—Body Shop Owner Saves Adjuster’s Life

Fixing cars is rarely a life-and-death situation. But, on a hot summer day last year, a body shop owner had to act quickly to save the life of an insurance adjuster who was experiencing a serious heart attack at his facility. If Bob McSherry, owner of North Haven Auto Body in North Haven, Connecticut had not acted quickly and definitively when Mike Vitale, an adjuster for GEICO, experienced a serious heart attack in his rear parking lot, there is a very good chance he would no longer be alive.

It started out as a typical hot, humid summer morning, but quickly became a life-changing experience for at least two people. “It was one of those days in Connecticut where you’re sweating heavily by 11 a.m.,” McSherry explained. “Mike had a long day ahead of him, and he used to be kind of high-strung back then anyway. Now, since the heart attack, he has slowed down quite a bit. But, he was a little wound up that morning because he was behind schedule.”


Vitale’s itinerary then changed radically, McSherry continued. “So, Mike was out there in our back parking lot writing up a vehicle when suddenly he collapsed between two cars. A couple of my techs saw him go down, which was lucky. One of them ran into the office and said, ‘The guy from GEICO is down and we don’t know what happened to him!’”

Vitale was fortunate to be at North Haven Auto Body because McSherry is an EMT and a volunteer fireman. “I got out there pretty quick and Mike was not breathing at all,” McSherry said. “After establishing that he had no pulse, I started doing CPR on him, and, luckily, the fire department was here within three or four minutes. The firehouse is about a mile from here and they were Johnny-on-the-spot. They gave him a shock here and then another one on the way to the hospital, and by the time he got there he had a heartbeat and was breathing.”

Unfortunately, Vitale wasn’t quite out of the woods yet, McSherry said. “They put him in a medically-induced coma for next three days because they were obviously concerned about brain damage. The people at the hospital told Mike’s family that they were lucky because we acted quickly, but they weren’t sure what his condition was. When they took him out of the coma three days later, he was 100%, talking and being Mike again.”     As a volunteer fireman for almost 30 years, McSherry was well-prepared and trained to act without hesitation. “Most people hear about CPR, but they rarely see it done in person. It’s a mind-blower and not for the faint-of-heart, that’s for sure. After Mike went down in the parking lot, more than a few of my employees came to me and asked about learning CPR. We agreed Mike was very lucky that day, but I asked my guys, ‘If someone had a heart attack at your house, for example, wouldn’t you want to help them?’ My employees said we should do some training and I agreed.”

McSherry set up a CPR training day for his staff and paid for the expense. “This way, the entire shop will be ready if anything like that happens again. We hired a local fireman who does CPR training and it took about eight hours to do it, but after you complete it, you’re pretty much an expert on how to administer it. We did the training right here at the shop, and we’re also in the process of installing a defibrillator, which some people call ‘the paddles.’ It costs roughly $2,700, but in the end it’s worth every penny. I hope one day they don’t have to use it on me,” he laughed. “They’re easy to use, and with all of the illustrations on the device, anyone can do it.”

Vitale is happy to be lucky, in the right place and most importantly, alive and well. “I went to the shop to look at a car, and the next thing, I was waking up at the hospital. There were no warnings. My diet is usually pretty good and my weight is ideal, so it came as quite a surprise.”

A series of fortunate events led to Vitale’s life being saved, he explained. “Thank God there was a guy working on the asphalt in the parking lot. I collapsed between two cars, so if that guy hadn’t been there, I doubt that anyone would have found me until it was way too late. He notified a tech and he ran into the office to tell everyone I was down.Another lucky thing was the fact that I had the attack at Bob McSherry’s shop and the fire station was so close by. It was a combination of things and without them, I would probably not be here to talk to you right now.”

Vitale, 61, is now seeing life from a different perspective after the near-death experience, he said. “I have so much more to accomplish and now I can. I have a granddaughter and I quit smoking, so life is good now. Some of the things that I used to be so concerned with aren’t as important anymore. Now when I become 65, I will seriously be thinking about retirement.”

Vitale thanked everyone who helped save his life, including the guy fixing the asphalt, Bob McSherry and the local fire department. “Gratitude is the word I can use. The first chance I had, I went around to let everyone involved know that I am truly appreciative and indebted forever. Bob McSherry and I have always had a good relationship, but now I can say without hesitation that he is my very best friend.”

Another valuable piece of advice from Vitale is visit the doctor regularly, whether you need to or not. “I talked to the doctor after the incident and they told me that they probably would have seen some precursors of the heart attack, especially the high blood pressure I wasn’t aware of. I used to be one of those people that would never go to the doctor, even when I was sick. But, now for obvious reasons, I have changed my mind about going to the doctor.”

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