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Nursing Grad Comes Back from the Brink - and into the Fold

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Joanne Giacalone met with Michael Graver, MD, who helped save her life after she suffered cardiac arrest last December.

Levittown resident Joanne Giacalone’s life changed forever on the afternoon of December 20, 2011, four days after her 24th birthday. Found slumped between two cars in a parking lot, the Adelphi University nursing graduate was rushed by ambulance to Nassau University Medical Center, where she suffered several cardiac arrests and had to be resuscitated with chest compressions and medication. A computed tomography (CT) scan of her chest showed that Ms. Giacalone had significant pulmonary embolisms (blood clots in the lungs).

An ambulance transported her to LIJ Medical Center, where she entered the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in almost complete cardiac arrest. Ms. Giacalone was again resuscitated with chest compressions and medication, and brought to the operating room (OR) while a nurse and physician assistant performed chest compressions to maintain her blood pressure.

LIJ clinicians were not optimistic she would survive. The cardiothoracic surgery team operated on her immediately to remove clots from her lungs and arteries.Ms. Giacalone suffered severe organ failure, internal bleeding, and lung and heart failure. Clinicians were concerned whether her brain had received enough oxygen during her several cardiac arrests.

Severe internal swelling prevented the surgical team from closing her breastbone after surgery, so she was brought to the ICU with her chest open and only a dressing covering her heart. Over the next 48 hours, Ms. Giacalone improved dramatically and was taken back to the OR to have her chest closed. She spent the next week and a half recovering from multiple organ injury/failure and returned home January 3.

Exactly a month after her medical crisis began, Ms. Giacalone met the surgeon who saved her life — Michael Graver, MD — and other caregivers who helped her survive. Ms. Giacalone, who originally planned to pursue a nursing career in obstetrics/gynecology, was surprised when Dr. Graver made a special announcement: Her application to join LIJ’s Critical Care Nursing Fellowship Program had been approved. The six-month program provides special training for nurses just out of nursing school who are pursuing a career in critical care. As Dr. Graver pointed out, “If she’s half as tough as a nurse as she was as a patient, she’ll be great.”

To celebrate the one-month anniversary of her crisis and recovery, Ms. Giacalone brought along her family — including her mother, father, grandmother and best friend — to reunite with the cardiothoracic critical care team that saved her life. Ms. Giacalone’s mother said, “My daughter’s survival is a true miracle. We are all here today to say that miracles are possible when you believe.”

Ms. Giacalone recently started the Critical Care Nursing Fellowship Program at LIJ Medical Center. During her training, she will attend classroom lectures and work alongside doctors and nurses who are treating critical care patients. Upon completion of the program, Ms. Giacalone hopes to work as a critical care nurse in LIJ’s Cardiothoracic Intensive Care Unit — on the same floor where compassionate doctors and nurses brought her back to life.

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