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Lacrosse Player's Life saved after mid-game heart attack in Lake Placid

By Kevin Shea, 08/10/17, 2:45PM EDT


John Sussingham, a lacrosse player for Ohio Wesleyan’s alumni team, suffered a heart attack around 5 p.m. Wednesday during a game in the Lake Placid Summit Classic — but with the help of trainers and emergency medical technicians, he is alive and in stable condition.

“I’m feeling great,” the 54-year-old from Brookfield, Connecticut, said Thursday afternoon by phone from his room at Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Plattsburgh.

When Sussingham collapsed during play, athletic trainers at the game stabilized him with an automated external defibrillator, according to George Leveille, founder of the tournament. EMTs and other volunteers then performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation and brought him to CVPH, which is known for its heart center.

There, Sussingham said, a stent was placed in his artery. He had high praise for Dr. Eric Gauthier, who performed the surgery. Gauthier had Thursday off work and was unable to be reached.

On Thursday evening the tournament will honor EMT Mellissa “Missy” Furnia of the Lake Placid Volunteer Ambulance Service for her pivotal role in saving Sussingham’s life. Furnia, who grew up in Lake Placid, also works as medical supervisor of the Olympic Sports Complex, home to Lake Placid’s bobsled, luge, skeleton, biathlon and cross-country skiing facilities.

Sussingham recalled her trying to keep him awake and focused for several minutes as he lay on the field, until he lost consciousness.

“I thank Missy from the bottom, my family thanks her, because without her I would probably not be here,” Sussingham said.

Early Thursday afternoon, Sussingham said he was able to walk from a room in the intensive care unit to one in the progressive care unit, where he is now staying. The only pain he felt was soreness in his ribs and chest due to the CPR, he said.

He said his phone has received countless text messages wishing him luck and a speedy recovery. A few of his teammates visited him Thursday afternoon, and at the time of the phone interview he was surrounded by his family members who had come to see him play. His wife Helen, son Andrew — who were both at his game — daughter Danielle and brothers Bob and Tom were with him for support.

It’s not the first time a player at a big-draw local sports tournament suffered a heart attack on the field. Last July at the Can-Am Rugby Tournament, a 56-year-old player died after collapsing from cardiac arrest during a match in Saranac Lake.

The Lake Placid Summit Classic, now in its 28th year, draws thousands of players on more than 250 teams, ranging in age from school boys and girls to grandfathers.