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Fire District Rescuers Touched by Man's Heartfelt Thanks

Recovering from a heart attack, Marv Giambiastiani of Novato pays an appreciative visit with some of the Novato Fire District personnel who saved his life two weeks ago.

Marv Giambastiani has spent his career in the automotive industry and has had to jump-start many a car. Sometimes an old classic needs a little jolt.

Sorta like what Marv got a few days ago from some local paramedics.

Giambastiani, chief organizer of the Nostalgia Days classic car show each August in Novato, said he felt lucky to have a 67th birthday on Jan. 29. That was just six days after going into cardiac arrest at his Novato home and receiving two "jump-starts" to keep him alive (plus a third at the hospital).

With two stents in his chest and amazing care from doctors and nurses at Kaiser hospitals in Terra Linda and San Francisco, he's doing fine now. So the day after his birthday, he visited Novato Fire District Station No. 62 on Atherton Avenue to thank three of the eight people who barged into his house to save his life.

Captain Doug Fernandez and firefighter-paramedics Kirk Lewis and Barrett Smith said the appreciation was mutual as Giambastiani and his longtime girlfriend, Pam Zuzak, paid a grateful visit. They pulled up in Giambastiani's 1955 Chevy Bel Air, a relic many Novato folks recognize.

"To hear him say thanks for giving him a 67th birthday, it validates why we do what we do," Fernandez said.

"This is only my third time when someone has walked back into the fire station after a full arrest and we had a positive outcome, so it's fantastic," Smith said.

Giambastiani is known not only for chairing Nostalgia Days but also serving on the 50th birthday celebration for the city of Novato in 2010, selling commemorative bricks to support the Novato City Hall renovation and playing Santa for the Downtown Novato Business Association during the holiday season. Now he has a new civic cause to promote: spreading appreciation of Novato Fire's paramedic teams.

"We have to tell the public don't get upset when you hear an ambulance and you have to pull over for a second," he said to the three firefighters during his visit. "We have to get it out there what you guys really do."

The medical team was heading back from Gnoss Field toward Station 61 on Redwood Boulevard when a call about a possible cardiac arrest was relayed by radio at 2:57 p.m. Jan. 23. Fernandez, Smith and Lewis were in Engine 62 at Redwood and Olive, and it took only 2 minutes to get to Giambastiani's side on Cherry Street.

"From the time they were dispatched to the time they first shocked him was 3 minutes," said Battalion Chief Ted Peterson, director of Novato Fire's emergency medical services team. "Before that, he was pulseless, which clinically means dead.

"From A to Z, it all fell into place," Giambastiani said of the chain of events. "Scary, but it all fell into place."

Lewis said they were lucky that they found Giambastiani in a "shockable rhythm" because of the short response time. While doing chest compressions, Lewis pushed down to so hard that he broke several of Giambastiani's ribs.

"I would like to take the credit for that, but I can't," Fernandez joked.

Giambastiani said this episode also was a good lesson for the public about not worrying about a high-profile, sirens-blaring response from the fire district for such a medical call. Fernandez explained that there are more fire engines than ambulances and that the engines are equipped with advanced life support equipment. On a normal medical call, an engine would be the first to respond. If it's a cardiac arrest, often a second engine would be dispatched because there are so many roles to play during such a "code save."

"So many people make comments like, 'Why the fire truck?'" Giambastiani said. "I myself never understood why, and I think a lot of people don't understand. People out there should realize that."

The fire district has been selected to receive a $500,000 grant to upgrade EKG machines that are on each fire engine and ambulance, Peterson said. Once replaced, the new units will have the ability, among other things, to recognize a heart attack while it is happening and to transmit a patient's electrical heart rhythms to the hospital lab and even to the physicians prior to the patient's arrival.

"When you have first responders with the ability to defibrillate, you at least have a chance," Peterson said. "The sooner you get electricity to the heart when it's in a rhythm like that, the better the outcome you're going to have."

Also, the Novato Fire Foundation has donated 100 automatic external defibrillators to the community and can be used by anyone to "shock" a heart that has stopped beating.

Novato Fire has a success rate that is double the national average for getting a return of spontaneous circulation after a patient is in what they call a sudden death situation, Peterson said.

Lewis said it's not just firefighters and paramedics who deserve credit for such lifesaving.

"Our dispatchers do an incredible job of getting us information," he said. "They give instructions and are very quick in processing the calls. They are overlooked. We have a really good system."

Such a "code save" is an emotional occasion for all parties involved, not just the person whose life was saved and that person's loved ones.

"... For me, I had a lot of pride in the teamwork that we did and everything coming into line," Lewis said. "It was seamless. To actually be there to make a difference, that doesn't happen every day. That's why we do the job."

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George Giambastiani February 05, 2013 at 05:10 PM
My sincere thanks and gratitude to the dispatchers, the paramedics and the staffs of Kaiser Hospital for saving my brother's life - you all made such a huge difference in our families lives. You all are among the true heroes in the world! Again, Thank You so much! Also, a special thank you to Brent and the Novato Patch for such a fine article.
VA Man February 05, 2013 at 05:21 PM
Job well done! Ken and I wish you the very best, Marv! Love seeing your friendly smile and waves!!
Charles Thompson February 06, 2013 at 04:54 AM
While in Doctor Insomnia's for coffee, I heard Brent relay to owner Cody what had happened to my old friend, Marv. I was shocked at the news, but even more shocked when in less than 60 seconds, in walks Marv himself looking fit as a fiddle. We shared a moment about how precious every day is and how fragile our lives are. The story of the life-saving heroics of the firemen and paramedics brought a tear. I loved seeing the get-well balloons floating in Marv's front yard!
Teresa Yamanoha February 07, 2013 at 04:05 AM
This is such a great outcome- makes me proud to do what I do!
Brent Ainsworth August 05, 2013 at 01:19 PM
Nostalgia Days are coming up fast (Aug. 16-17). If you see Marv, make sure to tell him you're glad he survived to run the show again for us.

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