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Medical Residents React Swiftly to Help Save a Life at Hockey Game

Published February 16, 2017

Go to a hockey game … and save a life.

Two first-year anesthesiology residents are being hailed for their actions in tending to a stricken Buffalo Sabres fan.

“Their instincts and training in the midst of a crowd of Sabres fans made a huge difference for one man and his family during the holiday season. Everyone at UB is proud.”
Senior associate dean for graduate medical education

Quick and Decisive Response to Chance Encounter

As Michael Ferrante and Alexander Heleba entered the main atrium of the KeyBank Center the night of Dec. 1, Ferrante says he noticed out of the corner of his eye that a man had fallen to the floor.

When the man, retired postal worker Roger Smart, did not immediately get up, Ferrante went over to see if he could be of any help.

Ferrante found Smart was unconscious and immediately began assisting him, with Heleba quickly following suit.

After checking for and not finding a strong pulse, they began performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) until the arena’s emergency services personnel arrived with an automated external defibrillator (AED).

“When we first began CPR on Roger, the initial thoughts going through my mind were: How could we further optimize the situation to provide the best care?” Heleba says.

“I wanted to get an AED placed to analyze the rhythm, support his breathing with mask ventilation and oxygen and to try to obtain IV access. Being in a situation without a lot of tools, we eventually were able to get the AED on Roger, but we were forced to mask ventilate with room air due to the lack of oxygen.”

CPR, Defibrillator Evoke Response Before Transport

The AED was administered twice to Smart, and by the second shock, he started to respond. Paramedics then transported Smart by ambulance to Buffalo General Medical Center (BGMC).

“It definitely was satisfying to get some response before he left to go to the hospital,” Ferrante says. “When ventricular fibrillation occurs, you only have a small window to maintain circulation while you work to get a decent rhythm back. Thankfully, the AED was there in a short amount of time, and the two shocks we administered helped him out.”

After the ambulance left, the pair headed to their seats to watch the game, but their thoughts continued to focus on the events that had just transpired.

“I was pumped up and could not focus on the game much,” Ferrante says.

“We went over the situation for the rest of the night and talked about how we thought everything ran, and we discussed things we would have changed,” Heleba says.

Rapid Recovery from Triple Bypass Surgery Cheered

Meanwhile at the hospital, X-rays showed three arteries to Smart’s heart were 95 percent blocked. Emergency triple bypass surgery was successful. 

When the residents met with Smart a week later during a “rescue reunion” at BGMC’s intensive care unit, they were thrilled by his rapid recovery.

“I was astounded at how good he looked. I was very happy to hear his side of the story and at the fact that he didn’t have any residual deficits from his incident,” Ferrante says.

Heleba also was amazed at how well Smart looked just days after surgery.

“It was such a turnaround to see how he was compared to how we initially saw him in the arena,” he says. “Getting to talk to him, Roger is such a great person, and I am glad that everything was able to work out for him.”

Heleba has been training with anesthesiologists at Roswell Park Cancer Institute and the Maple Gate anesthesiology group at BGMC. Ferrante has been training at BGMC and has worked primarily with Maple Gate anesthesiologists.

Incident Reaffirms Duo’s Decision to Become Physicians

Both residents said the experience at the KeyBank Center left them feeling re-energized about their career choice.

“Through the grind of residency, it is easy to lose sight of what the true meaning of being a physician is,” Ferrante says. “Events like this help refocus.”

“Experiences like this definitely help to validate my choice to become to a physician,” Heleba says. “Everyone joins medicine due to their desire to help people, and when you can help out, even outside a hospital environment, you feel gratified.”

Eyewitness Says Onlookers Grateful Pair Took Charge

Megan Veirs, a marketing communications specialist with UBMD Physicians’ Group, was among the people in the KeyBank Center atrium who witnessed the incident.

And although she did not learn who Ferrante and Heleba were until later, she said it was clear that the pair had reacted quickly and taken charge of the situation.

“As an onlooker to the scene, I was so grateful that someone was helping — someone was trying to save his life. I think every onlooker was thankful to Michael and Alex for being there,” she says.

“What Michael and Alex did not only speaks volumes to what this ‘City of Good Neighbors’ represents, but also to what this school and the training instills in the residents,” Veirs says.

UB Community Proud and Thankful of Outcome

And although Ferrante and Heleba say they merely did what they are trained to do, their actions are nonetheless being praised and celebrated by the entire UB community.

Roseanne C. Berger, MD, senior associate dean for graduate medical education, notes their “instincts and training in the midst of a crowd of Sabres fans made a huge difference for one man and his family during the holiday season. Everyone at UB is proud.”

Michael E. Cain, MD, vice president of health of sciences and dean of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, thanked Ferrante and Heleba for their actions and notes he is proud of what they accomplished.

“It was a great outcome for the patient because of great training by UB,” he says.