Rudy Donofrio didn’t feel any pain in his chest the day he collapsed, lost his pulse and nearly died from a heart attack outside Glendale Memorial Hospital and Heart Center.
What he felt was a nagging ache in his neck that worried him enough that he called his physician one day last August.
“I just called up and said, ‘Hey, I gotta see you. I have a pain in my neck,’” Donofrio said.
Shortly after parking his car on Brand Boulevard, Donofrio, 66, was walking to the hospital’s entrance on Laurel Street when he collapsed.
At around the same time, Housni Hariri, Glendale Memorial’s director of radiology, was walking toward the hospital’s entrance when a nearby nurse alerted him that Donofrio had gone limp and fell to the ground.
“She said, ‘Help! I think he’s dead,” Hariri recalled. He looked at Donofrio’s purple face, his tongue sticking out of his mouth, and thought the same.
“There wasn’t breathing,” he said. “There was no pulse.”
Hariri immediately performed CPR on Donofrio before paramedics arrived on the scene to continue resuscitation efforts before rushing him into the emergency room.
There, emergency room technician Howard Ferguson recalls shocking Donofrio’s heart more than once with defibrillators that eventually helped pull him back to life.
Of the three days Donofrio spent in the hospital, he can’t remember a thing.
Now with a stent in a right-side artery to improve blood flow to his heart — and a grateful wife, son and daughter — Donofrio has grown used to scrutinizing food labels for their sodium and fat content, and making exercise a regular habit.
Although he was an avid walker before his heart attack, he credits a rehabilitation and exercise program he’s embraced at Glendale Memorial’s cardiac fitness center for helping him lose 26 pounds in the last several months as well as adopt a low-sodium diet.
“Nobody really told me about sodium,” he said. “You have to watch sodium. They always say, ‘cholesterol, cholesterol, cholesterol.’”
While at home in the Adams Hill neighborhood of Glendale, Donofrio walks the nearby sidewalks up to 12 times a week and sticks to a diet of chicken, fish, vegetables and salad.
“A lot of vegetables; a lot of salad,” Donofrio said.
His effort to improve his health after suffering his heart attack earned him recognition this week by Glendale Memorial health professionals who annually celebrate cardiac patients who are intent on making a comeback during their “King and Queen of Hearts” event.
Along the way, Michelle Galanti, who manages the cardiac fitness and non-invasive cardiac program at the hospital, helped Donofrio see it through. The program she runs tailors exercise to recovering heart patients to help them regain their strength and modify their diet in order to improve their quality of life.
“A lot of people exist,” she said. “But they’re not living.”
For Donofrio, there was no question he wouldn’t change his lifestyle after nearly meeting death last August.
“When something happens like this, you don’t question it. You just do it…these guys brought me back to life again,” he said.
Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.