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Saving lives at the Mills

Chuck Biedka
| Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Florence Pesce was enjoying an evening meal at a restaurant in the Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills when suddenly she couldn't breathe.

A piece of red cabbage lodged in her throat and cut off her breathing.

Pesce, 78, of First Street, Leechburg, blacked out.

Her friends and others in the crowded restaurant tried the Heimlich maneuver.

It didn't work.

Neither did abdominal thrusts, said paramedic John "Nick" Edder, who grabbed a scope used in advanced life support to see the obstruction and to guide another tool to remove it.

Within 10 minutes Pesce was breathing easily. She was later examined and released at UPMC St. Margaret in Pittsburgh.

"They saved my life," Pesce said. "I was unresponsive and turning blue. They saved me.

"Lucky for me the paramedic got there in minutes," said Pesce, who was raised near Apollo and worked in New York City before returning here in retirement.

Pesce became about the fourth life saved by paramedics assigned to the Mills mall by Alle-Kiski Medical Center in Harrison.

Since the mall opened last July, paramedics have helped at least 100 people with serious illnesses such as heart attacks and not-so-serious ailments like sprained ankles.

Last winter, Adeline Chilia collapsed while shopping at Kaufmann's.

According to her family, several Kaufmann's employees immediately began CPR on the Harrison woman until paramedic John Saltarelli arrived.

Chilia, in her mid-80s, was given oxygen, and a defibrillator was used to shock her heart back into a normal rhythm.

Chilia was then taken to St. Margaret for further treatment.

According to a thank-you letter that Chilia's family wrote, a heart specialist said "only seven out of 100 people survive cardiac arrest" and that there is "only a small window of time for these actions to be performed for revival to be successful.

"We will forever be grateful for the courageous acts of those who saved her life."

Chilia said Monday she is "doing fine right now." She declined further comment.

Randy Beisel, a truck driver from the Johnstown area, said he also is indebted to the paramedics.

Beisel visited theMills with his wife on a Saturday last fall.

He said he didn't feel well, but like many people, "I kept pushing myself."

Beisel, 52, was dizzy and sweating when a security guard saw him and asked if he needed help.

Soon after a paramedic checked Beisel and sent him to the hospital.

Later, a heart doctor told him there was some blockage. He underwent a heart catheterization at West Penn Hospital, Pittsburgh.

Beisel said he was "stubborn" and probably would have rested a while then driven home if he hadn't heeded the paramedic's warning.

"I feel just great now," he said.

In addition to providing a paramedic and equipment, Alle-Kiski Medical Center had five automatic external defibrillation units installed near mall restrooms.

The units have sensors that attach to a person's chest to immediately determine if their heart has stopped. If so, the person using the unit is directed to push a button to deliver an electrical shock to restart the heart. The units have easy-to- follow directions and are designed so practically any passerby can provide help before medics arrive.

The hospital staff has taught CPR to mall security officers, some retail employees and Tarentum police officers who patrol at the mall. The hospital also has given the officers CPR shields and gloves, said Jeff Polena, the hospital's director of pre-hospital services.

Most malls have security officers trained in first aid and some in CPR but few malls have permanently assigned paramedics, said Pittsburgh Mills General Manager David Macdonald.

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