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Teaneck Town Council Honors Heroic Actions Of Teaneck Volunteer Ambulance Corps

TVAC members Bob Krane, Carolina Elliott, Lamar Dickey, Ezra Finkelstein and James Ng with Teaneck Mayor Michael Pagan at the Teaneck Town Council meeting in February.

In a heartfelt ceremony in late February, the Teaneck Town Council presented a crew from the Teaneck Volunteer Ambulance Corps (TVAC) with the prestigious Meritorious Unit Citation Award. The award was given for a call that had occurred several months earlier in which a woman had gone into anaphylactic shock after inadvertently ingesting a known allergen, and the crew’s quick thinking and unhesitating actions had saved her life.

On that fall morning, TVAC Ambulance 74, consisting of Crew Chief Ezra Finkelstein and crew members Bob Krane, James Ng, Lamar Dickey and Carolina Elliott were dispatched to reports of a patient experiencing anaphylaxis who had already self-administered her EpiPen but was still experiencing difficulty breathing. Prior to their arrival, they were advised by the dispatcher that the patient was no longer able to speak.

Upon arrival on the scene, the crew found a woman standing on the street next to her car in obvious distress, with blue lips and wheezing so loudly that they could clearly hear the whistling sounds even before using a stethoscope. She was standing with her friend who explained that the woman had a known dairy allergy and had just come from a local restaurant. The woman was now reacting to something she had eaten from that restaurant and her symptoms were progressively getting worse at a startlingly rapid speed.

Anaphylactic reactions of this magnitude are thankfully relatively rare; however, TVAC’s ambulances are equipped with EpiPens for this exact situation. Without hesitation, they grabbed an EpiPen from the first responder bag and Ng immediately administered it to the woman, hoping that this would put the urgent emergency behind them. In most cases of anaphylaxis, rapid administration of epinephrine assuages the major life-threatening symptoms of an allergic reaction, and as such EpiPens often save lives on their own (though their effects do wear off after several minutes, so patients who have received a life-saving dose of epinephrine still need to be transported to the emergency room).

However, after the EpiPen was administered, the woman’s symptoms appeared to be getting worse and then, suddenly, she lost consciousness and stopped breathing entirely. Without hesitation, Finkelstein grabbed a bag valve mask out of the first responder bag, affixing it to the woman’s face while at the same time instructing the crew to insert an oropharyngeal airway (a device used to ensure an unconscious patient’s airway remains patent). EMTs use bag valve masks to assist patients who are not breathing sufficiently, or as in this case, not breathing at all, and allow EMTs to administer breaths for them. The crew then quickly loaded her into the ambulance, using the bag valve mask to provide oxygen.

The ambulance sped through the streets of Teaneck, arriving at Holy Name Hospital mere minutes later. They transferred their patient to the emergency room staff, who immediately took over care.

This is the point in an emergency call where the role of an ambulance crew ends. In the large majority of cases, a crew never finds out what happened to their patient. This can be unsettling, but the knowledge that they did everything they could in that moment to save someone’s life motivates them to keep moving forward, to keep coming each and every day to save another person’s life.

But then, one day at TVAC headquarters, the phone rang.

Of all people to be calling, it was the woman who had been saved on that day. She was looking for the names of the crew who had come on that day in November so she could send them a thank you. She was told that the crew was going to be receiving an award for their actions on that day and was asked if she would like to attend to witness and help present the award, and she immediately agreed.

Several weeks later, at the Teaneck Town Council meeting and in front of the Township of Teaneck, she attended the council meeting along with her family and presented the award.

TVAC President Rabbi Daniel Senter gave a presentation to the council, describing how the crew’s quick actions had made a difference. “Due to their quick action and getting that patient quickly to the hospital, the emergency services at Holy Name were able to revive the patient,” Senter said. “We are fortunate that she is actually here with us today to celebrate this wonderful job that this crew has done on her behalf.”

“Every second matters here and it’s all appreciated,” said the woman as she presented the award certificates to the crew. “Thank you.”

After the presentation, several of the council members took the opportunity to speak, many of them recounting their own experiences with TVAC in similar life-threatening or emergency situations. They also expressed their appreciation for what TVAC does every day. “On behalf of the 42,000 residents who call Teaneck home, thank you so very much for everything that you do,” Teaneck Mayor Michael Pagan said. “You’ve been saving lives for years and you save lives every single day to this very day, and this most recent example is a testament to who you are and what you bring to the township.”

Abby Cooper is captain of personnel at Teaneck Volunteer Ambulance Corps. She is also a Bergenfield resident and a proud mother of five children.

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