“Please don’t let me die,” Enzamaria Grimaudo begged of Melissa Galant.
“Don’t worry,” replied Galant, a nurse at St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn, as Grimaudo hugged her. “We won’t.”
Galant, along with a team of doctors and fellow nurses, kept that promise. Last Friday, nearly two months after the 30-year-old Grimaudo, an Elmont teacher, suffered cardiac arrest, she returned to the job and life she said she cherishes. Surrounding her were the doctors who worked frantically to get her heart pumping again and her adoring first- and second-grade students at Clara H. Carlson Elementary School. The children had prepared a colorful poster thanking Dr. Edward Lundy, a cardiothoracic surgeon at St. Francis, and presented it to him in their classroom after they were reunited with their beloved teacher.
“I’m so excited to see everyone’s reactions,” Grimaudo said after she was reunited with her doctors and students. “Their hugs, their smiles — knowing that they were there waiting for me and supporting me definitely helped me pull through. It gave me more strength to continue and get through the hard time.”
For Grimaudo, a lifelong Elmont resident who attended Clara H. Carlson herself as a child, that hard time began on April 22. While walking her 3-year-old niece to a park in Massapequa, she started having trouble breathing. “It felt like something was sitting on my chest,” she recalled. “I started losing my breath and feeling like I was about to pass out.”
She grabbed her niece and ran to her brother’s house, where she collapsed. She was rushed to St. Joseph Hospital in Bethpage, where doctors determined that she would need more specialized cardiac care. She was then transferred to St Francis.
There she was treated for a rare heart infection known as viral myocarditis, Lundy said. He and two interventional cardiologists, Theofanis Tsiamtsiouris and Antonio Madrid, determined that Grimaudo required the insertion of a pump through a catheter to keep her heart beating.
“Her heart was not functioning whatsoever,” Lundy explained.
“It was a very, very intense situation when she came into the hospital,” Tsiamtsiouris recalled. “She was gravely ill.”
The doctors do not know how Grimaudo contracted the infection. Lundy said that 20 to 30 percent of people who contract viral myocarditis do not survive.
In the days that followed, Grimaudo remained ill and was transferred to Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, which specializes in heart transplants. Then, her health began to improve drastically.
“Over the next seven days, her heart completely recovered,” Lundy said. “All those devices were able to be taken out, and now she has a normal heart.”
Lundy added that he was surrised that Grimaudo recovered without any permanent mental impairment. “What can happen when there’s not blood flow to the brain, even for a short period of time, is that there’s brain damage,” he said. “When she woke up completely normal, many of us did high fives around the hospital.”
Lundy, who has a 30-year-old daughter himself and said that that was a major reason why “this case had a big impact” on him. He kept vigil by Grimaudo’s bedside.
The harrowing ordeal, Grimaudo said, has made her more appreciative of life — and her career. “At this point, I’m really happy I get another opportunity to see the children and continue my career, which I love,” she said. “Just living life, this job is so rewarding. I’ll never complain about getting up early and coming to work.
“I’m so thankful and truly grateful,” she added of the doctors. “They gave me another chance at life.”