NEW HYDE PARK, NY -- Levittown resident Joanne Giacalone’s life changed forever on the afternoon of Dec. 20, 2011, four days after her 24th birthday. The nursing graduate of Adelphi University was found slumped between two cars in a parking lot. She was rushed by ambulance to Nassau University Medical Center, where she suffered several cardiac arrests and had to be resuscitated with chest compressions and drugs. A computed tomography
(CT) scan of the chest showed that she had a significant pulmonary embolism
(clots in the lungs).
She was then rushed to Long Island Jewish
(LIJ) Medical Center by ambulance and came into the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in almost complete cardiac arrest. She was again resuscitated with chest compressions and drugs, and brought to the operating room (OR) with a nurse and physician’s assistant actively compressing her chest to maintain blood pressure.
Based on what they saw, LIJ’s cardiothoracic
team was not optimistic she would survive. The surgical team operated on her immediately to remove clots from the lungs and arteries, and if necessary, maintain her on life support using a temporary heart/lung machine. She had severe organ failure, internal bleeding, and lung and heart failure. There were also concerns whether her brain had received enough oxygen during her several cardiac arrests. Because of severe internal swelling, her breast bone could not be closed following surgery, so she was brought to the ICU early the next morning with her chest open and only a dressing covering her heart. Over the next 48 hours, she showed dramatic improvement and was taken back to the OR to have her chest closed. She spent the next week and a half recovering from multiple organ injury/failure and returned home on January 3.
Last Friday, one month to the day after her medical crisis began, Ms. Giacalone met the surgeon who saved her life, Michael Graver, MD
, and other caregivers who helped her survive her ordeal. Ms. Giacalone, who originally planned to pursue a nursing career in obstetrics/gynecology, was surprised and delighted to hear Dr. Graver make a very special announcement -- her application to join LIJ’s Critical Care Nursing Fellowship program had been approved. This extensive six-month program provides special training for nurses just out of nursing school who are pursuing a career in critical care. As Dr. Graver pointed out, “If she’s half as tough as a nurse as she was as a patient, she’ll be great,” Dr. Graver said.
To celebrate the one-month anniversary of her attack and amazing recovery, Ms. Giacalone brought along her very supportive family -- including her mother, father, best friend and grandmother -- to a news conference at LIJ where she reunited with cardiothoracic critical care team that saved her life. During her emotional statement, Ms. Giacalone’s mother summed up the feeling of the day by saying, “My daughter’s survival is a true miracle. We are all here today to say that miracles are possible when you believe.”