A ‘White Christmas’ Miracle
One day after his 69th birthday, Joe Lonetto entered the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport Dec. 3 for an 8 p.m. performance of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas.” In the company of his wife Joanne and longtime friends the Sterns, Lonetto was cracking jokes and looking forward to an evening of entertainment.
But in an instant, the spirit of the season drained from Lonetto’s face and from the hearts of those around him. Two minutes before the curtains were to rise, Lonetto dropped to the lobby floor, eventually becoming unresponsive and losing a pulse.
Nurse practitioner Donna Baas, a Wading River resident who attended the show with her husband, emerged from the ladies room and found Lonetto laying face-down on the floor. A crowd of guests, unsure of how to handle the crisis, swarmed around Lonetto before Baas rushed to his side.
On instinct, Baas’ medical training kicked into gear. She asked Lonetto if he could remember his name and, after mumbling his name once, he became completely unresponsive, according to Baas.
Within seconds, stage supervisor Jeffrey Brenner, a certified EMT with the Huntington Community First Aid Squad (HCFAS), tore through the theater to assist Baas, who said she was too small to turn Lonetto over on her own.
The pair rolled Lonetto over so that he was on his back and determined that the man, whose face was bloodied from the fall, had no pulse and was not breathing – he had gone into cardiac arrest.
“I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to help. I was frozen… Before that fellow [Jeffrey] came, I basically thought we lost him. There were some very mixed feelings but luckily, they didn’t last long,” Eitan Stern said.
Another bystander called 911 and within minutes, Northport Fire Department first responders were at the scene.
Before the fire department arrived, Brenner and Baas worked in tandem. They removed his shirt, and administered CPR and performed chest compressions until Northport volunteers arrived and helped with the pair’s revival efforts.
Once the HCFAS and Northport Village police joined the Northport Fire Department at the scene, first responders attached Lonetto to an automated external defibrillator (AED) machine, which delivered three doses of electric shock to Lonetto’s heart.
“Once we shocked the gentleman there was a spontaneous return of circulation and breathing,” Brenner said.
Moments after the shocks were administered, Lonetto was on his way to Huntington Hospital for further treatment.
According to the National Institutes of Health U.S. Library of Medicine, people who suffer from cardiac arrest and don’t receive medical attention quickly “die within a few minutes.” The defibrillation “sends an electric shock to restore the heart’s rhythm to normal.”
According to Stern, Lonetto received an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator in his chest on Monday and will ideally return home by the end of the week.
“Somebody was up there that day,” Stern said.
Stern, friends and neighbors with Lonetto for the past 40 years, described the event as a “Hanukkah (or Christmas) miracle,” and described the two Good Samaritans as “heroes” and “lifesavers.”
Both Stern and John W. Enegeman Theater owner Kevin O’Neill agreed if circumstances were different, and had Lonetto entered cardiac arrest when he was sitting in his seat, the end result could have been devastatingly different.
“It was a very stressful time, and these people acted incredibly calmly and professionally, and to be quite honest Mr. Lonetto was lucky it happened where it happened… It was actually pretty incredible,” O’Neill said.
“You were all angels sent by God to save Joe and keep him with his family and friends!” Stern wrote in a letter to O’Neill, the HCFAS and Northport volunteers. “Seconds seemed like swirling hours when he had his incident… Albeit you were strangers… it was fascinating to see the energy and determination you both [Jeffrey and Donna] exhibited as you kept at it and kept at it and kept at it. It was not just a coincidence; it was divine intervention.”