There was 6:08 left on scoreboard during the second quarter of the Westhill-Scarsdale high school girls basketball game last Saturday at Stamford High.
“I can tell you the exact time, the exact score,” Stamford athletic director Chris Passamano said. “Literally the clock stopped. Everything stopped.”
What Passamano, Stamford athletic trainer Jordan Napolitano and the others involved in reacting to this medical emergency cannot tell you is how long it was between the moment referee Tom Ferrarese dropped to the floor and when EMS workers were able to transport Ferrarese out of the gym to nearby Stamford Hospital.
They were too busy calmly, systematically saving a man’s life. Not once. Twice. They were too busy caring for the well-being of players and fans, avoiding a chaotic situation, and expediting the arrival of EMS.
“Quite simply, Jordan and the rest of the crew there saved our dad’s life,” Ferrarese’s son Brian said. “Without their quick actions, we don’t know what would have happened and for that we can’t thank them enough.”
Whistle around his neck, Ferrarese, 63, was making his way toward midcourt in the first game of a holiday tournament doubleheader.
“Suddenly, I saw him drop to his knees,” Stamford coach Diane Burns said. “Then he sort of face-planted forward, his arms at his side. Everyone kind of freaked out. Clearly, it was not good.”
“He dropped to his knees, but he didn’t go down like someone who just wasn’t feeling well,” Napolitano said. “He went flat. He hit pretty hard on the ground.”
Napolitano jumped up from behind the scorer’s table and hopped onto the floor. He yelled for someone to call 911. Passamano said Mike Smeriglio, the Westhill coach who is also the Stamford girls volleyball coach, and Stamford boys volleyball coach Sheena Carpenter immediately went to get the automated external defibrillator near the exit of the gym next to the water fountain.
Napolitano turned Ferrarese over.
“He was breathing, a good sign,” Napolitano said. “He wasn’t responsive. We gave him a few taps. He was able to come to. He was saying he had just gotten over bronchitis, hadn’t been feeling well and was dehydrated or something.”
“Jordan went right to work on (Ferrarese), doing CPR,” Burns said. “I had never seen anybody collapse like that before. It was terrifying. Jordan was so calm and cool, it kind of made everyone feel calm.”
Passamano wasn’t in the gym when Ferrarese dropped to the ground. When he came in, Ferrarese was already talking.
“Jordan had brought the ref back around,” Burns said. “He was laying on the floor, joking. He was like, ‘I don’t need an ambulance. I’m fine.’ We’re like, ‘Your heart just stopped. There’s an ambulance coming.’ He tried to get up, but Jordan had hooked him up to read his pulse and all that.”
As part of protocol in place, Stamford assistant coach Lynette Martinez immediately brought the players from both teams to the locker room. During the ordeal, Kolbe Cathedral, scheduled to play Stamford in the second game, arrived and the team was sent straight the locker room.
This was a good thing to avoid the emotional trauma.
“We had the AED pads on (Ferrarese) just in case,” Napolitano said. “The AED didn’t advise a shock. I was going to begin compressions on him once it seemed like his breathing had become labored a little bit. He was like no, no, I’m good. I’m like awesome.
“Then he started not to feel good again. He became unresponsive. He started turning blue.”
Napolitano had never administered an AED or chest compression on a person. Stamford quarterback Terry Forrester, who would undergo successful surgery to repair a congenital heart disease, had collapsed in a frightening moment during a November 2018 game with Westhill. He briefly went unresponsive. Napolitano was there that night to help. What happened last weekend went beyond that.
To maintain CPR certification, Napolitano said he has taken the requisite course a dozen times.
“It has always been with a dummy,” he said. “That’s the surreal part of this for me.”
This was life. And death. And life again.
The AED orally walks the operator through the appropriate steps. And it advised to shock Ferrarese.
“You realize this is the real deal,” Napolitano said. “You clear everyone away and administer the shock.”
“(Ferrarese) was blue,” Burns said. “He was dead.”
That’s when something glorious happened.
“He disappeared and he was back,” Passamano said. “The AED shocked him back. I don’t know of a better way to describe it. The man essentially died.”
“I would say his heart stopped one time (in the second episode),” Napolitano said. “The first time, it was labored, but we had found a pulse.”
After the AED shock, Napolitano continued with the chest compressions. He was starting his third series when Ferrarese came around.
“He snapped back out,” Napolitano said. “It was perfect timing. The EMS has just arrived.”
“Thank God,” Burns said.
Brian Ferrarese said his dad underwent minor surgery this past week and there will be at least one more. Tom is recuperating at home.
“He is in good spirits,” Brian said. “He is taking it easy physically and taking everything one step at a time.”
Napolitano had a chance to meet Tom Ferrarese’s family at the hospital that night. Passamano has since been in contact with Tom and the family.
The game? It remained at 6:08 in the second quarter. With the kids, some left in tears, and the coaches shaken, they decided not to finish.
“It was traumatic,” Passamano said. “We talked to all the coaches and players from all the teams.”
With an hour for life to return to some normalcy, Stamford and Kolbe Cathedral decided to play the second game.
This was a mighty triumph for preparation, organization and calmness. Those defibrillators are at every high school gym around the state. They save lives. So, too, does a staff prepared like Stamford’s.
The parents and fans had been cleared from the gym when Ferrarese’s second heart episode hit. There had been an emergency plan in place. As traumatic as the moment was, it was also organized right down to someone at all three doors to direct the EMS so a second wouldn’t be lost getting to Ferrarese.
“The staff executed everything to perfection,” Passamano said.
He sent an email out to the staff that night. It was 4 a.m. He couldn’t sleep. He had to tell them how proud he was of them.
“Jordan was amazing,” Burns said. “Chris was awesome, too. There were four different schools worth of parents, kids, players, kids in the game, kids in the locker room. Our boys team had just come back from a game. It could have been really chaotic, but our AD really took charge of the crowd. There was no panic.”
Passamano has received several emails in recent days. He said Ferrarese’s officiating partner Bob Guerrere sent an especially poignant one thanking the Stamford staff “for saving my partner’s life from a life-threatening heart attack.”
One of the first things Passamano saw when he was named athletic director in the summer of 2018 was a need for AEDs. He said he worked with Camille Quatrocchi of Westhill. Trainers got portable AEDs. They were installed at Boyle Stadium, lacrosse, soccer and baseball fields, even one off-site for coaches to carry.
“It is the life-saving mechanism,” Jordan Napolitano said. “It’s an amazing link in the chain of survival.”
So is the Stamford athletic trainer.
“Jordan did all the heavy lifting,” Passamano said. “He’s a hero.”