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Thankful for our life-saving team

Ironman 70.3 honors EMS workers for bringing Portuguese athlete back to life in September

November 23, 2018
By ANDY FLYNN - Editor ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - On the morning of Sunday, Sept. 9, Nuno Neves, a 38-year-old fitness trainer from Portugal, posted a family photo of himself, his wife and two young daughters on the shore of Mirror Lake. He was ready to compete in the Ironman 70.3 Lake Placid triathlon.

"All set for another event," he wrote. "A wonderful place."

It was almost his last family portrait; later that day, his heart stopped beating.

Article Photos

Ironman 70.3 Lake Placid officials, local EMS workers and volunteers pose Thursday evening, Nov. 15, at the Lake Placid Beach House, after an award ceremony honoring the people who saved an athlete’s life during the Sept.. 9 race. Front row, kneeling, from left, are: John Heverly, Tracey Viola, Billy Martin and Jerry Stewart. Middle row, from left, are: Greg Borzilleri, Don Dunworth, Mike Marshall, Larry Brockway, Melissa Furnia, Cassie Sellars, Cora Clark, Tisha Siddell, Sue Sweeney, Julie Barney and Patty Bashaw. Back row, from left, are: Wolf Mueller, Sean Caffyn, Jeff McGreggor, Ryan Siddell and Arron Barney.
(News photo — Andy Flynn)

After finishing the 1.2-mile swim in 28:05 and the 56-mile bike in 2:40:30, Neves was almost finished with the 13.1-mile run on Mirror Lake Drive when he collapsed of a cardiac arrest. Thanks to the people who live and work in this "wonderful place," Neves is alive today.

"He was able to walk out of the hospital in Plattsburgh and go home because of you," Ironman 70.3 Lake Placid Race Director Greg Borzilleri told a group of almost 20 EMS workers and volunteers who saved Neves's life. "Someday you will tell this story to his little girls. He will be forever grateful for all of you as you gave him a chance to see them grow up."

Borzilleri and his Ironman team held a thank-you ceremony Thursday evening, Nov. 15, at the Lake Placid Beach House. Invited guests - such as Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall, town of North Elba Councilman Jay Rand, town of Keene Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson and Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism CEO Jim McKenna - looked on as local Ironman officials told the life-saving story and handed certificates to these "heroes," as Borzilleri called them.

"This was a come-to-Jesus moment for me," Borzilleri said. "I've been working for Ironman since 2011, and this is the first cardiac event. This is the first time we've had someone pass away and brought back to life on the course in Lake Placid."

Both Borzilleri and Ironman 70.3 Lake Placid Medical Director Tracey Viola, a sports medicine doctor in Lake Placid, told the story as it unfolded, from their viewpoints.

Neves traveled to Lake Placid to qualify for the Ironman 70.3 world championships.

"And if he had finished," Borzilleri said, "he would have qualified for the world championships."

Viola was in the medical tent with co-captain Cora Clark at the time of the incident.

"It was right before noon," Viola said. "I got a phone call from our Ironman command center on my cellphone. ... The voice on the other end said we had a 38-year-old male down on the course and CPR is on progress, and I will not repeat what came out of my mouth."

A witness who saw Neves collapse started screaming and called 911.

"Her screams coming up and down the road were what activated volunteers and spectators, who happened to be two nurses who got there and started CPR on him," Viola said.

During the ceremony, Borzilleri identified Cassie Sellars as one of the volunteer nurses who started CPR immediately.

"All the way from the aid station about 200 yards down the road, she ran up," Borzilleri said.

As CPR was in progress, there was an athlete who got off of his bike to help. It was Sean Caffyn, an emergency room doctor from Connecticut.

"A dirty little secret about emergency medicine docs is once we leave the hospital, we're no better than an EMT," Caffyn said during the Nov. 15 ceremony. "I hope your communities are proud of you guys because what I saw there that day was, quite frankly, as skilled and done as well rehearsed as the city medics I work with that do it every day of the week, and I've been doing EMS for 24 years."

After helping with Neves, Caffyn got back on his bike and finished the race in 7:24:57.

Two EMS crews - from Lake Placid and Saranac Lake - were on site within 5 minutes of the 911 call, even with some of the roads that were closed.

"They were on site in minutes and got an AED on this person," Viola said.

By this time, athletes were already crossing the finish line. Borzilleri was at the Olympic Speedskating Oval greeting the winners when he got a call from Lake Placid Assistant Chief of Police Chuck Dobson.

"All he said was, 'We have a code on Mirror Lake Drive.' My heart dropped," Borzilleri said. "I hopped on my scooter and raced over. First responders from Saranac Lake Volunteer Rescue Squad and Lake Placid Volunteer Ambulance Service, Lake Placid Fire Department, Lake Placid Police Department, along with volunteers, spectators and athletes were there attempting to revive one of our competitors."

Borzilleri rerouted the cyclists to give the first responders some room to work on Neves.

"I was losing hope that he wouldn't recover," Borzilleri said. "Here was a truly fit, fast and youthful athlete laying in the road just minutes from the finish line, and despite all the skills exhibited by our first responders, 10 minutes had gone by with no response. Eleven minutes in, I heard the best four words ever: 'We have a pulse.' I may have been a little exuberant as I shouted, 'Yes!' Many of you looked up at me like I was a crazy person. I didn't want to jinx it any further, so I just shut up and you guys kept going."

The EMS crews gave life-saving medications to Neves.

"And that is basically - in addition to everything that had been done up to that point - that's what got this person a pulse back, a heartbeat back," Viola said.

Neves was then transported to the emergency room at AMC Lake Placid on Church Street, where he was further stabilized.

"He has two little daughters who were there with his wife when all of this was happening," Viola said. "There was another ambulance crew that had nothing to do with any of this. Patty Bashaw happened to be on it. And they actually brought his wife and his daughters to the emergency room just so that they could get there and see him before he got flown over."

North Country Life Flight was called to transport Neves to the CVPH Medical Center in Plattsburgh.

"Upon loading him onto the helicopter, I thanked all of you who were there for your work and called you heroes," Borzilleri said.

Ironman administrators drove the family to Plattsburgh and stayed with them.

"So from every single level, if you could plan this out, it could not have happened any better," Viola said. "And it's because of every single one of those steps that happened perfectly that this man survived."

One of those important steps was CPR, according to Viola.

"I have a message for the public. Please learn CPR," she said. "You never know when you may need it. It could be your own husband or wife, your own child or parent, a friend or a stranger. You can save a life, and not only will it change that person's life, we all know that it will change your life as well."

Ironman officials would not give out contact information for Neves, so the News could not get an interview by press time. However, Viola gave an update on Neves's athletic career.

"He hasn't only survived; he is already back to racing triathlons," she said. "It's been two months, and as a doctor, that gives me a whole other set of feelings. Again, you guys didn't just save a life, you gave this entire family back their life."


The honorees

Those who were honored at the Nov. 15 ceremony at the Lake Placid Beach House included: Cassie Sellars, Ironman volunteer; Sean Caffyn, athlete; Arron Barney, Lake Placid Volunteer Ambulance Service; Jeff McGreggor, Saranac Lake Volunteer Rescue Squad; Jerry Stewart, SLVRS; Mike Marshall, LPVAS; Larry Brockway, LPVAS; Wolf Mueller, LPVAS; Don Dunworth, LPVAS; Melissa Furnia, LPVAS; Tisha Siddell, LPVAS; Ryan Siddell, LPVAS; Sue Sweeney, AMC Lake Placid; Billy Martin, North Country Life Flight; John Heverly, North Country Life Flight (pilot that flew out the athlete); Cora Clark, Ironman medical team; and Julie Barney, AMC Lake Placid.



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