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GIVING BACK: Missy Furnia gives back by saving lives

March 8, 2019
By GRIFFIN KELLY - Staff Writer ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - Aug. 2, 2017, was quite possibly the most important day of Melissa "Missy" Furnia's career as an EMT.

John Sussingham, a then-54-year-old resident of Brookfield, Connecticut, came to town to compete in the Lake Placid Summit Classic lacrosse tournament. After he and the Ohio Wesleyan's alumni took to the field that afternoon, Sussingham suffered a heart attack. Athletic trainers were able to stabilize him with a defibrillator, but he needed further medical attention.

Furnia happened to have her pager on that day. The main ambulance squad was out in Saranac Lake, so she was the only one to respond to the dying man. In serious situations like responding to a heart attack, Furnia said it's hard to describe those moments. It becomes almost like an out of body experience. Emotions blackout and training kicks in.

Article Photos

Lake Placid Volunteer Ambulance Service EMT Melissa “Missy” Furnia sits in the lobby of the North Elba Town Hall Monday, March 4.
(News photo — Griffin Kelly)

"I mean, it's scary," she said. "I don't know if there are really words for it. You know, you've got someone there and their wife and their kids are standing there. watching you trying to make their heartbeat and breathe for them. With John Sussingham, all I kept thinking was, 'Please, Jesus, please don't let me have to tell another wife I'm so sorry.'"

Sussingham was transported to Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Plattsburgh where he recovered.

"I'm feeling great," he told the Enterprise the day after his heart attack.

Furnia and Sussingham still keep in touch.

Furnia was born and raised in Lake Placid and now works on the medical staff at the state Olympic Sports Complex. Her family has lived here for four generations. For a while, she lived in Hawaii where she worked as a scuba instructor. Health and safety were the main components of her work back then. As a trained rescue diver, she occasionally encountered heart attacks and near drownings.

She eventually found her way back to the Adirondacks because she missed her home, and her family wanted her back.

"My grandfather one day called me up said, 'Time to come home, little girl,' and when papa calls, right, you come."

After returning to Lake Placid, her friends on the Lake Placid Volunteer Ambulance Service asked if she wanted to join, and she said, "Sure, why not?" She's since been with the service for 14 years.

"The best feeling in the world is when you can someone on their absolute worst day," she said. "Sometimes you can help, sometimes you can't, but to be there for people I've known my whole life, there's no better feeling. It's the best feeling ever."

Not every EMT call is a life-or-death scenario, Furnia said.

"We have a large elderly population here," she said. "You know, you get a lot of difficulty breathing, diabetic emergencies. Sometimes you just get a lifeline call up at the Greenwood (Apartments) and they just need a friend."

However, there are days where the EMT overwhelms Furnia.

"I'm not sure I can say it without crying," she said. "This town's raised me, and I think when I'm having to work on someone's husband or wife or brother or sister that I've known my whole life and I can't bring him back, and then I have to tell them 'I'm so sorry.' It's a pretty crappy feeling.

"I mean, I'm glad it's me because I can hug them and I've known them my whole life, but that feeling doesn't go away - doesn't ever go away. Every single person that I've lost, I carry with me."

Furnia almost quit after Olympic bobsledder Steve Holcomb died after overdosing on alcohol and prescription sleeping pills.

"I loved him," Furnia said. "I was the first one on the scene. I almost quit. I turned off my pager and was like, 'I can't. I can't do it.' Then a couple of months later (Sussingham) brought me back."

Furnia said in life-threatening emergencies, EMTs can't often save people from death. Sussingham was her first one. About a year after Sussingham's heart attack, Furnia assisted reviving Nuno Neves, a Portuguese fitness trainer who suffered cardiac arrest during the last leg of the Ironman 70.3 Lake Placid triathlon in September 2018.

"Thankfully, there was a lot of us there for the Ironman guy," she said.

For her efforts in keeping Sussingham alive, Furnia received the EMS Phoenix Award from village Mayor Craig Randall in September 2018. The award honors people who successfully saved the life of someone who was in cardiac arrest.

Despite, her fondness for the work and the villages' appreciation, Furnia's life has taken a turn for the worse.

At the Monday, March 4 village Board of Trustees meeting, Furnia announced that she'll most likely have to leave Lake Placid and her position as a volunteer EMT.

Furnia lives at Cascade Acres, the trailer park on Cascade Road. She said her trailer, which houses her and her three cats, is deteriorating. To pour a new slab of concrete would cost about $11,000, which is not in her budget. Then there's the actual cost of a whole new trailer. She's tried looking around the village for another house or apartment, but everything is too expensive, she said. She's currently looking at homes in Jay, a town half-an-hour away.

"I can't even get a shoebox in this town," she said through tears and a choked up voice. "I just want a trailer where I'm not breathing in black mold or where the fridge isn't falling through the floor. To leave my home is breaking my heart."

Like some locals, Furnia thinks increasing housing prices are related to a growing short-term rental market.

"I normally didn't pay attention to that debate over vacation rentals until I wanted to buy a house and it started to affect me."

Randall said he empathizes with Furnia and understands the problems she brought up.

"Your dilemma perfectly expresses where we are in terms of housing," he said to Furnia. "There's limited if any housing available for locals to live in."

A few months after Sussingham's recovery, he visited Furnia in Lake Placid. She said it was so different to see him standing up - he looked so tall. It was all hugs and tears.

"We're connected in a way that's hard to explain," she said. "There is a connection that will never go away. I don't do this for any of that, but it's a pretty overwhelming feeling to see stuff on Facebook and be like, 'Wow. I had a part in that.'"



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