Firefighter Nick Gravina has performed hundreds of life-saving procedures on other people. He never expected to be on the receiving end.
A 10-year veteran of the South Metro Fire Rescue Authority, Gravina has always been regarded as one of the more physically fit crew members. And he proved it the morning of May 14, 2012, by finishing a grueling annual fitness test in an impressive one minute, 48 seconds.
A short time later, however, the 41-year-old felt pain in his chest. He initially chalked it up to indigestion and tried to take a nap. But the nagging pain prompted him to tell a co-worker.
Shelly Davis, a South Metro firefighter for 14 years, remembers that Gravina’s color didn’t look quite right when he entered the workout room at station 47. Alarmed, she hooked him up to a LifePak heart monitor and defibrillator after getting a “weird feeling.” The monitor indicated that Gravina’s heart was not receiving enough oxygen, and as she placed additional patches on his chest to get a more conclusive reading, Gravina collapsed.
Lt. Steve Woodrick called an ambulance to the three-person station and began administering CPR. Davis, meanwhile, shocked Gravina and got no response. Minutes later, Gravina regained consciousness and was alert and talking in the ambulance. But as the ambulance arrived at Parker Adventist Hospital, Gravina went into cardiac arrest again.
The married father of two boys doesn’t remember being clinically dead for an hour.
When all was said and done, Gravina had been shocked 18 times and undergone extensive CPR. His family and co-workers, not knowing whether he had suffered permanent brain damage, waited anxiously for days before Gravina woke up, seemingly unscathed with the exception of some fatigue and weight loss. Doctors removed a clot commonly known as the “widow maker” and placed a stent in his heart.
Since then, Gravina has taken a considerable amount of time to think about what might have been. The “big reality check” changed his perspective on life.
“I almost didn’t go home that day. I almost didn’t see my kids again,” said Gravina, who has lived in the Parker area for 15 years. “I’m not sure why or how it happened. I just know I made it.”
Other than the chest pain immediately preceding his collapse, there were no warning signs. He doesn’t have high cholesterol or high blood pressure or a family history of heart troubles. Doctors believe the strenuous activity from the physical agility test might have triggered the movement of the clot, but were unable to give Gravina a definitive explanation on a cause.
He has spent the last year fearing that it could happen again, but mostly has tried to focus on making the most of his second chance, while improving his diet. Gravina admits to being “kind of embarrassed” by the whole ordeal, but words can’t express how happy his colleagues are that they were able to intervene in time.
“It’s definitely an added stress when it’s someone you know, but being a medic for so long, I kind of went on autopilot,” said Davis, who spent 22 years as an emergency medical technician. “I’m glad I was there and was fortunate enough to be able to function without falling apart emotionally.”
Davis says she still gets choked up when seeing Gravina around the firehouse, and couldn’t help but shed a few tears during an awards ceremony in early March. Gravina felt compelled to thank the South Metro crew members who helped save his life.
“I did my best to tell them what it meant to me, what they did for me,” he said.
Gravina says he no longer allows himself to dwell on trivial things and has made a point of spending more time with his family.