What happens if your heart stops beating? Is it possible to survive?
CBS station WCBS in New York recently met a Brooklyn man who lived after his heart quit for 47 minutes, and it's all thanks to a team of doctors who refused to give up until they brought him back from the dead.
"These doctors did not stop," Joe Tiralosi said, fighting through tears to find the words to describe his experience. "Without them, and I'm serious when I tell you, I wouldn't be here."
Tiralosi is a medical miracle. He's been to the edge and back, to a place most people don't return from. Now he's at home in Brooklyn, but three months ago he literally died.
"I think miracle best describes it," Tiralosi said.
Tiralosi suffered sudden cardiac arrest. His heart stopped beating for 47 minutes.
"Not a moment goes by that I don't take for granted every second because I know it only takes the blink of an eye to lose your life," he said.
Last week, the 56-year-old father of two returned to NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center to thank the medical team who saved his life and share his story with WCBS.
On Aug. 17, Tiralosi walked into the emergency room feeling sick and disoriented. He collapsed a minute later.
"The doctors themselves were responsible for giving my chance to live again," Tiralosi said.
Doctors Rahul Sharma and Flavio Gaudio led the team who worked on him.
"It's a miracle for which it is difficult to find words," Dr. Gaudio said.
"When Joe came in he was talking. It was his presence when he came in that made us all say we're not going to give up," Dr. Sharma added.
"I felt he had a good pulse with the compressions so part of me thought that we had bought some time," Gaudio said.
It took 4,500 chest compressions and eight shocks from a defibrillator to get Tiralosi stabilized at 11:55 a.m. While his doctors worked frantically to save him he barely remembers anything about that day.
"I kind of remember going out. I knew I was going out and I heard someone call my name, and I just went out," Tiralosi said.
Tiralosi's doctors said only one out of four people survive sudden cardiac arrest. Most die within 10 minutes of heart failure. And of those who survive 30 percent suffer serious brain damage.
Watch local video from CBS Station WCBS in New York
So was there a time after 47 minutes in the room when someone said ,"Guys, enough's enough. Time to end it"?
"There were whispers of that but I imagined that he was a man with a family, with a family someplace," Gaudio said, "and I didn't want to go out and tell that family that we had lost him. I had to keep going."
A specific procedure helped save Tiralosi's life. Special cooling pads, not available in all emergency rooms, lowered his body temperature to 91 degrees, essential in preventing long-term neurological damage and preserving brain function. Placed in a medically induced coma, incredibly, he began to wake up three days later -- without brain damage.
"For me, I was blessed that day. God was with me and brought me here," Tiralosi said.
Doctors restarted Tiralosi's heart but he said it was his family's support that sustained him. His wife, Janet, still can't talk about it. He said he remembers hearing his son Joey's voice when he was still in the coma.
"There was things he wanted to do with me yet, but we hadn't had the chance to do and that I should hang in there," Tiralosi said.
"I would squeeze my daughter's hand. She'd ask me to be … tell me how strong I was," Joe Tiralosi said.
"I never really looked at him as a miracle during those weeks because I always had hope," Christina Tiralosi added.
The doctors said Joe Tiralosi's case is one for the record books -- one they'll never forget.
"I've never seen this. This is extremely rare. We were all very emotionally involved as well," Dr. Sharma said.
Joe Tiralosi is making steady progress in his recovery.
"I'm not complaining because we know where I've been," he said. "I just look forward to getting the chance to live a long normal life, and let people know they shouldn't take for granted ever your life and your family because they can be taken away from you so quickly."
Tiralosi is going through cardiac rehab right now. The professional chauffeur is working hard to get his life back to normal. He is taking life one day at a time.