By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — Well-known local attorney Scott Gleason said getting a second chance at life was like “winning the lottery.”
“How do I say thank you?” Gleason said to a crowd of people that included several who played a role in saving his life after he suffered a heart attack while training to run in this year’s Boston Marathon.
Local emergency workers said it doesn’t always work out this way, but when it does, lives are saved. In this case, what they refer to as the “chain of survival” worked to perfection and literally saved Gleason’s life.
They all gathered at Gleason’s downtown law office last week to meet the man who they last saw on the brink of death. Gleason has practiced law since 1980 and has a law office on Merrimack Street with brothers Thomas and Sean Gleason. Scott Gleason is known for having a heavy workload and representing public officials in high-profile cases.
One of the last to arrive at Friday’s gathering was Claire Walsh of Groveland, a registered nurse who works in the emergency room at Merrimack Valley Hospital. She told Gleason that when she discovered him the day he collapsed, she was making a third attempt at getting to Mass at Sacred Hearts Church that weekend.
“I’m glad to see you upright,” Walsh told Scott Gleason as they hugged.
“I know better than anyone how lucky I was,” Gleason said.
Gleason said he has no memory of that day, doesn’t remember collapsing, and didn’t learn about what happened to him until awaking after six days in an induced coma at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston.
“I grew up in a family that was taught to appreciate everything we are given,” Gleason told the nurses, paramedics, police officers, firefighters and others who played a role in saving his life. “Here I am at age 62 and find there is more to give back.”
Gleason’s story began on the morning of Jan. 26, a Sunday, when he was nearing the end of an 8-to-10-mile run in preparation for the marathon. It was about 8:45 a.m. when he suffered a heart attack and collapsed face first into a snowbank on Salem Street, in front of Bradford Common.
Haverhill Deputy Fire Chief Brian Moriarty, who also works as a paramedic at Lawrence General Hospital, arranged Friday’s get-together and, along with Gleason, saw it as a way to bring the concept of the “chain of survival” to the public’s attention.
There are five links in this life-saving chain, the first being to notify emergency workers. That’s the role Bradford resident David Alartosky played when he was was walking by the common, saw Gleason lying in the snow and immediately called 911.
By sheer chance, Walsh was on her way to morning Mass at Sacred Hearts Church when she saw Gleason, made a U-turn with her pickup truck and ran to him. Police officer George Dekeon had arrived just seconds before. He happened to be on patrol near Sacred Hearts Church when notified by police dispatchers of the 911 call.
The chain of curvival now had its second link, with Walsh administering early CPR.
“He had no pulse and no breath,” Walsh said.
Police Officer Ronald Hilchey arrived and was able to identify Gleason before he was taken to the hospital.
Walsh told Gleason that fate placed her in a position to help.
“Someone up there was watching out for me,” Gleason said. “I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”
The third link in the chain was forged by Fire Department Lt. John Marchand and firefighter EMTs Mike Sullivan and Keith Grant. They took over from Walsh and Dekeon and used a defibrillator to shock Gleason’s heart back into a normal rhythm.
When Marchand approached Walsh, he told her, “Why don’t you let my guys take over?”
“She was glad to be relieved,” Marchand said. “Doing (chest) compressions can be exhausting.’’
Trinity EMS paramedics Kirk Brigham and Garrett Dejong soon arrived and began administering advanced life support, the fourth link in the chain of survival.
Gleason was taken to Lawrence General Hospital, where the fifth and final link of the chain, integrated post-cardiac arrest care, was administered by registered nurses Gladis Boldergini, Sue Dunbar and Shannon O’Donnell, along with Dr. Mark Simmons and Haverhill firefighter/paramedic Brian Moriarty.
“If it hadn’t been for the links in the chain (of survival), the outcome may have been different,” Gleason told the group.
Moriarty told Gleason that in cases such as his, time is the enemy.
“It’s just a matter of minutes when the chance of defibrillation decrease,” Moriarty said. “When they brought you to the hospital, you were seizing.”
As last week’s gathering came to a conclusion, Marchand suggested to Gleason that he “go home and take a nap.”
“I do it all the time,” Marchand said jokingly.
Walsh said she is retiring at the end of this week after working 47 years as a registered nurse.