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It may sound odd, but Mary LeFebvre fondly remembers that frightening night in 2012 – how she suddenly slumped to her kitchen floor, was rushed to The Miriam Hospital and arrived just as her heart all but stopped beating. That’s because it was also the night that a young doctor took her into his care in the midst of her massive heart attack and tenaciously fought to keep her alive.
Lefebvre marks the anniversary of the lifesaving work of Joseph Lauro, M.D., every year by sending long, heartfelt thank-you cards to the emergency physician she credits with refusing to give up on her.
"You saved my life!" LeFebvre wrote Dr. Lauro one year later. "You did not stop. You did not give up.”
Little did she know she made a lasting impression on Dr. Lauro as well. Deeply touched by her words, he has cherished the cards, keeping some of them in the backpack he totes to work every day and often using them to motivate colleagues, medical students and emergency responders.
And so the years passed without patient or doctor ever truly meeting – until now. Five years later, the two are reunited in the very emergency department where she says Dr. Lauro’s expertise and exhortations for her to live helped saved her.
"I still hear your voice,” she says after greeting him in a long, teary hug. “You kept me alive talking to me. You told me, 'You have to help me!' "
Dr. Lauro, who has worked in The Miriam’s ED since 2009, smiles and marvels at Lefebvre, now 62.
"You look wonderful," he says. "How are you doing?"
"I'm alive," she says. "Just know you are in my thoughts every day. When I run up the stairs, I think 'I'm running up these stairs thanks to Dr. Lauro.' "
Soon their conversation turns to her cards.
"Your cards are very inspiring,” Dr. Lauro says. “I use them when I teach students. I scan them into my presentations so that everybody knows that what we do does make a difference."
That wintry night in 2012, LeFebvre awoke in her Foster home and got out of bed with a feeling of heartburn. She went to get a drink and an antacid. Suddenly she felt weak and collapsed. Her husband, Bob, called 911.Things went from bad to worse as the rescue arrived in the ED and Lefebvre went into full cardiac arrest. Her coronary artery was fully blocked, obstructing blood flow to her heart and sending it into potentially fatal arrhythmias.
“It would have taken her life,” says Dr. Lauro.
LeFebvre needed a stent in her heart to reopen the vessel, but an interventional cardiologist could not attempt the procedure until her condition stabilized. It was up to Dr. Lauro and his team of experienced emergency nurses to do that. For nearly 40 minutes, they used a defibrillator and advanced cardiac life support to successfully shock her heart into beating, only to lose her pulse again and again. Finally, thanks to the shocks to her heart, CPR and multiple medications, her heart regained a steady enough rhythm for the insertion of the stent.
"Do you remember what you said to me that night in the hallway?" Dr. Lauro asks Bob during the reunion. " 'Please don't let her die. I love her so much.' It really struck a chord with me."
In fact, Dr. Lauro paid a visit to LeFebvre’s bedside, when she was recovering yet barely conscious, to tell her what her husband had said.
"Thank you for saving her life,” says Bob.
In her cards to Dr. Lauro, LeFebvre enthusiastically describes how she has quit smoking, committed to exercising regularly and filled her early retirement with cruises and visits to see relatives, including a grandchild she would never have met.
“I enjoy my life every day," she says.