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Quick actions save man’s life in Fairfield

FAIRFIELD TWP - Robert Goldberg of Ringwood is thankful to be alive.

“Every day is a gift now,” the 48 year-old said. “The rest of my life will be a gift.”

Goldberg was training at Combat Athletes Mixed Martial Arts on Passaic Avenue in Fairfield at about 2 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 19 when he collapsed from what would later be discovered to be a clogged artery.

Paul Fahey of Belleville, Goldberg’s instructor at the school, two people from a nearby business, and five police officers rushed to action, administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation and thereby, Deputy Police Chief Anthony Manna said, saving Goldberg’s life.

“It is without a doubt that this individual’s life was saved due first to the efforts of the three civilians that were present, and who immediately started CPR, as well as the continued efforts made by our officers,” Manna said in a press release.

Goldberg, 48, owner of Goldberg's Famous Bagels, a chain of bagel eateries, had been training at the school for about two months, he said. Fahey was aware that Goldberg sometimes had medical problems that caused him to get dizzy when he stood up.

While shadowboxing with Fahey that day, Goldberg needed to sit.

Then, Goldberg collapsed.

“I guessed he was probably having a heart attack,” Fahey said. “It didn’t sound good…”

Because the practice was a private session, Fahey needed to go somewhere else for help. “This is like a split second decision I made. I could use my cell phone, but I couldn’t use my phone and give him CPR at the same time. Or I could go get some help from next door.”

Next door, at Trimount Corp, a tool company, Fahey screamed for someone to call 911 and then he returned to Goldberg.

“I couldn’t feel a pulse,” Fahey said. “It was…I’ll just say it, it was scary, but I knew I had to get started with CPR.”

Toni Smith of Lincoln Park, an employee of Trimount Corp. and a former medical assistant, rushed next door to help when she heard Fahey call out. Paul Holzach, owner of MPC Fuel Systems and a former firefighter, also ran over from his office. The three alternated between administering CPR and supporting each other.

Five police officers, sergeants Paul Bowden and Daniel Dias, and Officers Ian Rasmussen, Christopher Nicholas and Brad Ahern, administered two shocks with an automated external defibrillator.

An Atlantic ambulance picked Goldberg up and transported him to the Intensive Care Unit of St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Paterson. He was released from the hospital on Friday, Dec. 27, with a fractured breastbone, two cracked ribs, and a collapsed lung, all from the CPR.

“I just remember collapsing,” Goldberg said on Friday.

Then, “I woke up [in the hospital] and somebody asked if I could move my eyes side to side.”

Although he suffered injuries from the CPR, Goldberg said he is happy that he survived.

“Paul is half my size,” Goldberg said. “He has amazing strength and agility.”

“The reason that I chose that dojo (formal training school) was that I’m about six foot three inches and 300 pounds, and in my 20s I was a bouncer. I wanted to go to a gym, but that seemed boring. I watch so much Brazilian jiu-jitsu that I figured I’d try it out. But it wasn’t just MMA (mixed martial arts) there. It was teaching me about life, discipline, and respect.”

He said that he plans to go back to training at the school, “as soon as I feel better.”

In recounting the experience, Smith said, “It’s the Christmas miracle. When they put him in the ambulance they weren’t making any progress.”

“I just am so elated that he made it. And shocked,” Smith said.

A sense of peace came over Fahey later in the afternoon of Dec. 19, during an innocuous shopping trip. He said he was going to buy mouthwash. “This was going to happen for a reason…I knew it was going to be OK. It just hit me all at once, with that understanding. It was beautiful.”

Part of this sense of destiny came from the fact that Fahey knew how to perform CPR. He said he learned it at a first aid and safety products company where he used to work. He said that he didn’t like everything about the company at the time, but the CPR training he received at that job helped save Goldberg’s life.

“Robert was meant to meet me,” Fahey said. “This was going to happen to him anyway – it could have happened when he was walking on a sidewalk or driving on a highway. For some reason, he was put into my hands.”

After Goldberg collapsed, Smith coordinated getting in touch with his family. “I’m so happy that he’s doing well,” she said. Before Dec. 19, she hadn’t known Goldberg.

“It’s all about ‘do unto others,’” she said. “I know I’d want someone to do this for me or my family. Help somebody. That’s what life is about.”

Fahey said, “I’d just like to thank everyone that helped. It was a team effort … also all the emergency medical personnel and police officers that came by. If they didn’t respond, we wouldn’t have our friend here. It couldn’t have turned out better.”

“I thank (them) for saving my life,” Goldberg said.

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