I recently learned about the dramatic rescue of a man who had suffered a heart attack in the cabin of his Sea Ray. Thanks to the quick and intelligent actions of a few boat owners in the same harbor that day, the gentleman who had a brush with death is now able to thank the people who saved his life.
Dennis Dillon and his wife, Tricia, were on the hook in New York’s Port Jefferson Harbor when he went into cardiac arrest. Tricia began CPR and yelled for help.
Josh Stein of Connecticut was on a nearby mooring aboard his Beneteau Swift Trawler when he heard Tricia’s cries. Stein and his fiancé, Dr. Elizabeth Nadal, had traveled to the area to attend an event for members of the Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club. They had just finished getting ready for the evening when they realized the woman was shouting about a heart attack. “Lizzy grabbed aspirin and I took the handheld VHF radio before we jumped into our dinghy and headed for their boat,” says Stein.
When the couple pulled up alongside the Sea Ray there were other people on site who took their lines so Stein and Nadal could quickly board. “Lizzy took the initiative in medical care,” says Stein. “She took over CPR and directed the efforts of other volunteers [Heather Tearne, Alan Bertrand and Doug Ewing] who rotated on CPR duty.”
At the same time, Stein took control of logistics, directing those nearby to call the Coast Guard and Suffolk County Marine Police, contact an ambulance onshore and locate flares.
Stein used his handheld VHF to call for an automated external defibrillator (AED). He knew that Kevin and Kathleen Rooney, also members of Saugatuck Yacht Club who were in Port Jefferson that day, had one on their boat. The Rooneys received Stein’s request and handed off their AED to Dr. Robert Kloss and his son, Robert, because they had a fast dinghy. The Kloss men were able to locate the Sea Ray because of the flare.
Ten or 15 minutes had passed with no sign of the Coast Guard or marine police, so Stein made the decision to run the boat to shore, even as CPR continued for Dillon and the AED was applied. He’d never operated a boat of this type before, but that didn’t slow him down. He drove the Sea Ray to shore at 30 knots, hailing the ambulance on Channel 16 while en route to determine a meeting point. In the cabin, Dillon had regained his pulse and was breathing on his own.
About 25 minutes after Dillon’s wife first cried for help, paramedics were transporting her husband to a local hospital. There, doctors discovered that Dillon had a 100 percent blockage in the left anterior descending coronary artery, a condition with a 5 to 6 percent survival rate. “That’s the survival rate on land,” says Stein. “We have heard it’s virtually zero on the water.”
Dillon was able to thank the people who saved his life at a ceremony in June, during which all of the heroes involved in the rescue were awarded certificates of merit from the Coast Guard. “I will never be able to repay any of the beautiful, loving people who are responsible for my being here,”
Dillon said that night.
Stein and Nadal, who are now married, are proud of the efforts of this group. “It was a true team effort,” says Stein. Their success, though, was in large part due to the habits of these conscientious boaters.
“I’m always alert on my boat and I’ve helped in a number of emergencies on the water,” says Stein. “I’m always listening to Channel 16 and I’ll always have a pen and paper at the helm to record coordinates if someone is in trouble. That’s part of the responsibility of being a boater. My only hope is that if I need help in the future, someone will be there for my family.”
This article originally appeared in the August 2020 issue.