By Evan Tiska
Just a week shy of the anniversary of his death three years ago, Louis Acompora is still saving lives. And now the legacy of the late Northport High freshman, as well as the cool-headed teamwork on the part of some local basketball players and police officers, can take credit for saving the life of an East Hampton janitor who was brought back from the grip of cardiac arrest by the timely use of a defibrillator.
Dexter Grady, a 37-year-old resident of Springs and a custodian at East Hampton Middle School, was taking his usual 45-minute dinner break from his duties last Thursday evening. As was his custom on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Grady went to the school’s gym to spend some of his time playing basketball with a group of men who assemble for pickup games.
Grady had just finished a game and was taking a breather on the gym’s bleachers a little before 8 p.m. when he became aware that something was wrong. “I sat down and I was talking to Charlie [Bateman] and Lee [Minetree] and all I remember was that I felt lightheaded; I saw stars like, then saw white,” recalled Grady on the phone Monday from his bed at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola.
At the time, Minetree was also taking a break from the action and left Grady’s company for a drink of water. When he returned he found Grady awkwardly slumped on the bleachers and apparently unconscious. “Doc!” he shouted, “Doc, get over here!”
‘Then It Was Gone’
Alan Katz, an East Hampton dentist, rushed over and assessed Grady’s condition. “He was having a labored breath with a lot of saliva and mucus in his throat and he didn’t respond at all,” said Katz. “It looked to me like it was going to be some sort of heart-related problem and not just a seizure or something.”
The incapacitated janitor was having trouble breathing, then turned his head to one side and ceased breathing altogether. Katz began rescue breaths and was assisted in CPR by Bateman, a Sag Harbor house painter, who started in with chest compressions. “His pulse was irregular,” said Bateman. “We had trouble finding it. It was there, then it was gone.” Grady’s breathing resumed but was still under duress.
The custodian’s heart was in the midst of ventricular fibrillation. A normal heartbeat consists of two contractions that pass oxygenated and deoxygenated blood between the heart’s two sets of chambers. Ventricular fibrillation occurs, for one reason or another, when the heart is thrown out of this rhythm and its lower chambers beat in unsynchronized chaotic spasms. If left unchecked, this results in death. Chances of survival in such a case decrease by 10% for every minute a defibrillator is not used.
While Katz and Bateman were performing CPR on Grady, Minetree retrieved the automated external defibrillator from the hallway outside the gym. Louis Acompora’s death resulted in defibrillators being made mandatory in all New York State schools as of last December.
At 8:04 p.m. East Hampton Village Police Officers Dennis Walker and Matt Morgan responded to an emergency call made from the gym by Claude Beudert, an EHHS teacher, and arrived at the school just in time to assist Katz and Bateman in applying the AED and helping Grady’s respiration with portable oxygen. Defibrillators work by sending a jolt of electricity to the heart, causing it to flatline in the hopes that the heart will reset itself with a normal rhythm. “In the moment, trying to get this thing together, it seemed like an eternity,” remembered Bateman.
Finally, the electrodes were placed around Grady’s heart and the device took over. It revved up and hit Grady’s body with a shot of electricity. “The first shock nearly gave everybody a heart attack,” said Bateman. “Dexter’s body lifted right off the ground.” But Grady’s heart, despite the hit, quickly lapsed back into cardiac arrest. His breathing faltered again.
He was shocked two additional times by the device before his heart resumed a normal beat. Soon Grady was breathing regularly again and he miraculously regained consciousness on the way to the ambulance. Friends and paramedics had to convince the hardcourt Lazarus that indeed a trip to the hospital was necessary.
Grady was transferred from Southampton Hospital to Winthrop where Friday, where was scheduled to undergo open-heart surgery yesterday morning. According to the patient, the doctors are still unsure what exactly caused him to fall into cardiac arrest, but they point to some clogged arteries and a genetic predisposition for heart disease as possible reasons.
Ironically, this past year Grady volunteered to be trained in the use of the AED, never believing that he would be its first success story. “Thank God I was down there [gym] and not isolated or alone in the bowels of the school,” said Grady. “I’m grateful the defibrillators were on hand. I have to tip my hat to the people I work for in the East Hampton School District.”
As of December 1, AEDs were required in all East Hampton schools and school-sponsored activities in compliance with a new state law. Last spring, Governor George Pataki signed a bill requiring schools across the state to purchase and maintain defibrillators with a trained staff during curricular and extracurricular activities as well as at all school-sponsored athletic events.
Pataki affectionately referred to the legislation as “Louis’s Law.” John and Karen Acompora started the Louis J. Acompora Memorial Foundation after the death of their son Louis during a lacrosse game. Louis died of a rare disorder called Commotio Cordis in which the heart is sent in ventricular fibrillation by a sudden blow in the millisecond it is between rhythms. In this case a routine save off his chest protector and no defibrillator on hand ended the young man’s life. The Acomporas lobbied the State Legislature for a law requiring defibrillators at high school sporting events, and raised money for schools and booster clubs wishing to purchase their own.
“Once we found there was something that could have saved his life, we knew this was something we had to do,” Karen Acompora told The Independent in an interview last year.
School officials, faculty, and health care-conscious residents in East Hampton and throughout the East End went above and beyond the proposed law to make sure AEDs were in all school buildings and also made readily accessible to the public. Any doubt about the time and expense this took has now been assuaged by the gratitude of Dexter Grady. “I just thank God he allowed me another day,” he said.
Grady is the third person in Suffolk County so far whose life has been saved by a school-sponsored AED. East Hampton Village Police Chief Jerry Larsen is planning a formal recognition of the efforts of those involved in Grady’s survival. The man himself hopes to be released from the hospital sometime early next week.