A Hero in Life and Death

Dec. 27, 2010

RECENTLY, I HEARD A STORY about an FDNY fire officer, Lieutenant Howard J. Carpluk Jr., 43, who died in the line of duty on Aug. 28, 2006. Carpluk, on the job for more than 20 years, was cited three times for bravery. He was normally assigned to Engine 42 in the Bronx, but was working in nearby Engine 75 for the day tour. Units responded to a fire in a 99-cent store. Suddenly, the floor of the store collapsed. The nozzleman, Firefighter Michael C. Reilly, who also died, wound up under Carpluk, who was trapped in a crouched position under tons of debris, including store shelves and contents. Rescuers made it to the basement, where they worked until exhaustion to try and remove him. He was transported to a hospital one block away. Because of the position in which he had been trapped, he could not receive all the oxygen he required, so he was kept on life support. He was an organ donor and because he was kept on life support, several of his organs and viable tissue were donated to several people.

Even though he died, Lieutenant Carpluk was able to provide life to several others after his death. His best friend, who related the information to me, changed his driver's license and became an organ donor as well because of what his late friend had done.

I underwent a kidney transplant on Oct. 27. Today, six weeks later, I am back at work. People waiting for a kidney donor may be on the list for up to eight years, if they ever receive a kidney at all. When I spoke to the head doctor in the Kidney Transplant section of New York Presbyterian Hospital, he told me a transplant was my only option. My brother, Carey, who is three years younger than me, stepped up and said he would be my donor. This was a personal act of heroism of another kind so I could continue to live. I received around 80 e-mails and cards from readers and friends from all over the globe. Thanks for the good wishes! Members of FDNY Rescue 3 stopped by one night. They had been on their way two other times, but were called into action before they could see me. The kidney has been working perfectly. The doctors say they do about 250 kidney transplants a year at that hospital, the fourth-busiest such unit in the nation. My brother was given a shirt saying he is a donor. Listed on the front of the shirt are 12 parts that are now transplanted. Truly a miracle of modern medicine.

Currently one or two New Yorkers die each day waiting for organ transplants. The Office of the Medical Director of the FDNY recently issued a directive concerning Project Organ Preservation. Members of the EMS command will be participating in this pilot study. This initiative is being coordinated with numerous city and state agencies when responding to patients who experience sudden cardiac arrest. Although such programs exist in other countries and have been successful, Project Organ Preservation marks the first time such a process has been attempted in the United States. The program began on Dec. 1 and will be piloted for six months. The program is very conservative, including only patients where EMS terminates resuscitative efforts in a non-public location such as a private residence, nursing home or office where the deceased is already on the New York State Registry of Consent, the family consents to the process, and the potential donor is age 60 or under and meets all other medical inclusion criteria. The goal of the pilot program is to test the process. If the pilot proves successful, this model may be expanded throughout the city and the country.

SPEAKING OF ACTS OF HEROISM, entries in our annual Firehouse® Magazine Heroism and Community Service Awards program are available at www.firehouse.com/magazine/heroism and must be submitted by Jan. 12. If you have any questions, please contact Liz Neroulas at [email protected] or 631–963–6230.

IF YOU DON'T READ ANYTHING ELSE in this issue, please read the following. In this month's Close Calls column, Billy Goldfeder relates: "It is vitally important for every one of us to ensure that the specifications and performance of our bunker gear meet the fire conditions we are likely to encounter. And that's the trick."

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