Heart and Vascular

After 55 minutes of CPR, heart attack survivor ‘grateful’ to be home

Ernest Figueroa, heart attack patient at VBMC and his wife Alicia Figueroa


On Jan. 25, 2024, Ernest Figueroa celebrated his 50th birthday. It was as much a milestone as it was a miracle.


Just three weeks earlier, on Jan. 4, Figueroa arrived in the Emergency Department at Vassar Brothers Medical Center with chest pain, fatigue and dizziness. He collapsed in triage and was found to be in ventricular fibrillation, a life-threatening irregular heart rhythm.

Staff immediately began efforts to revive him but were faced with a difficult situation — Figueroa failed to respond. In the most critical context where every pulseless minute counts, all the extensive resuscitative measures were not working. But the emergency and critical care teams kept trying, refusing to give up.

"This story is what makes me proud to be an Emergency Physician at Vassar. Our team came together within seconds of his collapse- nurses, technicians, respiratory therapists, resident and attending physicians, secretaries, registration and EVS - working together to do what we do best,” said Emergency Medicine Physician Dr. Melissa Nelson-Perron. “The additional bedside support from our ICU and cardiology colleagues reinforced that we have something very special here at Vassar. It is cases like these that recharge my batteries and reminds me of why I chose a career in emergency medicine."

Added Nuvance Health Intensivist Dr. Shazia Choudry:

“Many dire situations like this come to a tragic end after 25 or 30 minutes. Through perseverance and faith, doctors and nurses pursued past 55 minutes. It was then that Figueroa’s pulse was thankfully restored, and he was urgently transferred to the cardiac catheterization lab.”


By then, Nuvance Health Cardiologist Dr. Mark Harrison determined Figueroa suffered an ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI), the most serious of all heart attacks, representing a total artery blockage. Left untreated, it can lead to the highest risk of heart muscle damage, complications and death.

While in the cath lab, it was identified Figueroa’s left anterior descending coronary artery was blocked. Interventional Cardiologist Dr. Chandra Ojha placed a stent in the artery, which allowed for restoration of normal blood flow.


Learn more about interventional cardiology at Nuvance Health.


“From the ER to the ICU, they didn’t stop working on him. When they came out of giving him CPR, they looked like they had been in a war zone.” said his wife, Alicia Figueroa. “They treated him like he was family.”


Figueroa was not out of the woods yet. Following stent placement, he was transported to the Intensive Care Unit and required a ventilator, multiple medications to raise his blood pressure and dialysis for kidney failure.

Related Content: Young survivor shares lessons learned after heart attack


“The doctors also warned me about his brain function, but when he started pulling on the respirator and tubes, that showed he had brain function,” Alicia Figueroa recalled. “It’s rare that he survived after 55 minutes of CPR but even more so that he had brain function.”


Figueroa was critically ill for three days, regaining consciousness on Jan. 7. His breathing and kidney function improved, and he no longer required mechanical or chemical cardiac support. He went home on Jan. 15.

Related content: Heart attack survivor shares her motto: ‘Don’t die of doubt; call 911’


“The doctor said his second birthday was on Jan.4,” Alicia Figueroa said. “I just want to thank the entire team, from the ER to Dr. Ojha and Dr. Harrison to the ICU nurses and doctors for their incredible care. They could have given up. They worked their butts off for my husband.”


On a recent visit to his home in Highland, NY, Figueroa looked relaxed and on the mend. He takes short walks around the house, he said, has regained his appetite and is looking forward to starting cardiac rehabilitation later this month.

“It was an extra special birthday this year,” said Figueroa, a father of five. “I’m just grateful that I’m here with my family. I’m looking forward to living and enjoying every day.”


Learn more about the Nuvance Health Heart and Vascular Institute.