What was just a day of golfing with his two sons turned into a life or death situation for one Miller Place School District athletic director and another area resident. It became a day where scores of people, both medical and nonmedical alike, worked to save a man’s life and return him to his family, alive and with his full faculties.
It was a bright sunny day the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, May 22. Ron Petrie, of Sound Beach, was out with his two sons Michael and Matthew for a day of golf at the Rolling Oaks Golf Course in Rocky Point. Being it was a popular day for some socially distanced sports at the course, the trio was paired up with fellow Sound Beach resident Jim Kennedy. They were strangers, but they got to talking as they moved languidly across the greens. Petrie’s sons were still relatively new to golf and were taking it slow to learn more of the ropes.
Petrie said he could tell that the new acquaintance loved his wife and two daughters just by the way he talked of them and how one of his daughters just recently graduated from college.
Then at the 8th hole, Petrie turned around, and said he saw Kennedy a few yards behind them. The man had fallen face down in the fairway. He didn’t seem responsive.
“The initial thing is just to figure out what was going on,” Petrie said, remembering the events of a few weeks ago. “It was kind of a sense of we’ve got to figure out what’s going on … It was definitely unnerving.”
Petrie got to the ground and rolled Kennedy over onto his back. He shook him, shouted his name, but there was no response. He checked everywhere, from his carotid to his brachial arteries for a pulse, but could not find it. The man was in agonal breathing, as if he was gasping for air, whenever the athletic director moved or shifted him. Though Petrie didn’t know it, the man was having a heart attack, and a severe one at that.
He told one of his sons to call 911, then that they should clear the area of any kinds of obstructions like golf clubs and bags and stand at the top of a nearby hill to flag down the emergency service vehicles that came by. Despite the threat of the COVID-19 virus, the athletic director began compressions and continued it for about five minutes until emergency responders arrived.
It’s something that as the head of athletics, as well as health and physical education, is kept up to date with the latest training every year. He fell into the steps of compressions. He saw the man had lost all control of bodily function and fluid. He had already vomited and he decided to focus on what he could control, that being pumping Kennedy’s heart for him.
“I coached for 25 years, I’ve gone through every gamut of CPR that it seems every two years they’re changing,” Petrie said. “The latest protocols are when in doubt, hands only, breaths are secondary.”
Medical professionals would learn Petrie’s actions most certainly saved the man’s life, and likely helped preserve the man in what is the most consequential time in a heart attack, where oxygen no longer is being pumped up to the brain.
Speaking many days after his time in the hospital, as he continues his recovery day by day, Kennedy said he remembers very little of what he was doing before he collapsed, and practically nothing until he found he was lying in a bed at Stony Brook University Hospital. He learned later his heart attack, caused by the complete blockage of the left anterior descending artery, is sometimes called the widow maker, as that specific artery provides blood into the heart, allowing it to function properly.
EMTs on the scene put him on a machine to do compressions and managed to get a weak pulse back in Kennedy, about 15 minutes after he went down. The ambulance team decided to take Kennedy to Stony Brook University Hospital’s cardiac department, where nurses and doctors would spend nearly the next nine hours in battle over the man’s life.
Kennedy’s sister, Kathleen Taibi, just happens to work as a nurse practitioner at the Stony Brook cardiac department. Her husband, Dr. William Taibi was Kennedy’s physician before he retired from his own practice in 2016. The duo received the call of Kennedy’s circumstances from their house upstate. They rushed down to Stony Brook, who let the Taibis and Kennedy’s wife, Trish, into the normally restricted lab, as many there thought it could have potentially been the husband’s final moments.
Doctors in the catheterization lab put two stents in his artery to open the worst of the blockages. After that though, Kennedy suffered two more cardiac arrests after he was put into the coronary care unit. An army of staff “worked on him and worked on him and worked on him,” William Taibi said. Medical professionals managed to stabilize him during the second round of catheterization.
The doctors put the man in an induced coma for several days, using an intentional cooling of the body to minimize the amount of oxygen the brain and body need. When he was warmed and awoke that following Monday, doctors and family were relieved to find he did not seem to have any damage in brain function. In just a little over a week he was released from the hospital.
“He came out of it miraculously,” Taibi said. “There were all sorts of miraculous events … if you’re looking for a hero story, it’s [Petrie and his sons], they performed CPR on him in the time of COVID. They were able to give him those first five minutes, that’s probably why he has his brain function today.”
Despite having never really met each other until that day on the golf course, it just so happens that both men were connected through the school district. Justine Scutaro, who teaches in the district and is also the girls volleyball coach, is the goddaughter to Kennedy.
“I’m just happy the family still has him in their lives,” Petrie said.
Kennedy, who works as a corrections officer for Suffolk County, remembers very little of events, only really up until the Wednesday after Memorial Day.
“I’m feeling a little better every day — when I came home everybody was really happy to see me upright and able to walk.” he said “I’ll forever be indebted to Ron.”
Trish Kennedy said Petrie “is our hero — performing CPR on a total stranger — especially during this pandemic.” She added that the work of everyone, from the athletic director to the people in the ambulance to the men and women in the hospital, helped save her husband’s life.
“Ron not only saved my husband, he saved [my daughters’] Kimberly and Kaitlyn’s dad,” she said.
Petrie said CPR is taught during the first quarter of health classes every year. Students wonder aloud why they have to learn the skill or when they will have to use it.
“We got him to where he needed to be,” he said. “To think his family will have the opportunity to be together, to know they will still have that opportunity, is a huge relief.”
The story printed in the June 4 issue of the Village Beacon Record incorrectly spelled Petrie’s name. This version corrects that error.