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Nurse’s quick action saves a colleague’s life

Allison LoGrasso always considered herself a light sleeper and a “night person,” which for years included working the late shift as a nurse.

Then, on the afternoon of Nov. 30, while talking with colleagues in the anticoagulation clinic at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center in Burlington, she grabbed her neck, grimaced, and collapsed.

Her body seized, her face was blue, and she had no pulse.

Down the hall, coworker Maureen Sawyer heard the commotion and rushed to help. A veteran emergency department nurse, Sawyer began cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

LoGrasso was transported to emergency, then hospitalized for 10 days.

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“I don’t remember anything leading up to the event or three days afterwards,” she said.

Although she had no earlier symptoms, LoGrasso, 52, of Wilmington, was diagnosed with sleep apnea, in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts.

The long untreated apnea caused pulmonary hypertension, which is high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs.

“Allison’s was a one-in-a-million case,” said Dr. Danya Dinwoodey, the Lahey cardiologist who treated her.

She said LoGrasso has no lingering effects “because of the quick action of her colleague” and urged all people to learn CPR.

“Any lay person can save lives,” Dinwoodey said.

“I don’t think I did anything out of the ordinary. It was instinctual,” said Sawyer, 58, of Billerica.

LoGrasso and Sawyer worked together in the Lahey emergency department for several years. Four years ago, LoGrasso took a job in the anticoagulation clinic. Sawyer joined her last year.

“I told Allison there was a reason she wanted me here,” Sawyer said.

She also said she hopes the incident gets people thinking about how they sleep.

“There’s a lot of public awareness about the signs of stroke and cardiac issues, but not a lot about sleep apnea and what destruction it can cause on your body,” she said.

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“People say ‘I snore, but it’s nothing,’ but it does have the potential of being a critical event,” LoGrasso added.

She spent several months recuperating and returned to work Feb. 1. At night, she wears a small mask that provides a flow of air in the nasal passages to keep the airway open.

“I sleep eight-and-a-half hours a night solidly,” said LoGrasso. “I feel fabulous.”

WENDY KILLEEN

Wendy Killeen can be reached at wdkilleen@gmail.com.