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Survivors celebrate the first responders who gave them a 'second chance at life'

The FDNY's 25th annual Second Chance Ceremony allowed first responders to reunite with patients they rescued. 

The Rev. Jeffrey Thompson hugs a first responder

The Rev. Jeffrey Thompson hugs a first responder Tuesday at the FDNY's annual Second Chance Ceremony in Red Hook.   Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

The Rev. Jeffrey Thompson  was overseeing Sunday services at his Jamaica church on Oct. 28, 2018, when he collapsed, falling from the pulpit and going into cardiac arrest. On Tuesday, Thompson was able to thank the first responders who saved his life as part of the FDNY's 25th annual Second Chance Ceremony. 

"[I] don't have a memory past falling out. I woke up in the hospital and my first question was where am I and what happened?" he said. Thompson, who has since had a defibrillator implanted, said the congregation had sprung into action, calling 911 and starting CPR until the professionals arrived.

"It's a tremendous opportunity … It gave me a new lease on life, an opportunity to have a second chance at life," he added. "I would say that I'm blessed to be here." 

Paramedic Giovanni Reggler was one of Thompson's rescuers and one of the many first responders honored at the ceremony at Liberty Warehouse in Red Hook, held during this year's National EMS Week.

"We do this every day but we don't usually get to meet the people whose life we've impacted," she said, adding about Thompson: "Every person is important to us, but having someone who is so important to everyone else and being able to save him, it impacts all of our lives, as well." 

Firefighter William Staudt, 63, was working on research and development out of Fort Totten for the FDNY when he suddenly felt a "burning sensation"  in his chest and slumped over in September 2018. His colleagues immediately started performing CPR and called over two emergency medical technicians who were working in a nearby building. 

"I've been in many situations over the years when you always wonder what happens to some of the patients that you've worked on," said Staudt, a firefighter for 37 years. "The words thank you are one thing, [but] to be here and show and acknowledge and give them the credit they deserve for making it their life's work, that's what's important."

Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said more than 200 patients have been reunited with the first responders who saved their lives during Second Chance ceremonies.

"Year after year, this event is an opportunity for our members to see the positive outcome of all their hard work, their dedication, their discipline and their training," he said.

Another survivor, Brittany Smith, was only 2 years old when she swallowed a toy-sized billiard ball in February 1998 and went into cardiac arrest. Smith, who was living in Mariners Harbor on Staten Island at the time and lives in the Dongan  Hills neighborhood now, said she was unconscious for about five minutes as one first responder stuck his finger down her throat and pulled the ball out. Now 23, Smith has a 2-year-old daughter of her own and said it brought new meaning to the day.

"I have a daughter so I know what my parents went through," she said. "I just wanted to thank everybody for helping me … Now that I have my own daughter, I can't imagine her going through something like that or losing her, God forbid."

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