Woman is revived after suffering clinical death

Published August 19, 2006

TAMPA - Tracy Smith wasn't just close to death. She died.

During what was supposed to be a 20-minute, outpatient procedure in a Tampa doctor's office, Smith suffered an allergic reaction to an anesthetic.

The 35-year-old Wesley Chapel mother of two went into cardiac arrest and started having seizures. Then she lost her pulse and stopped breathing.

By the time Hillsborough County Fire Rescue medics Mike Gennusa and Ricky Rineberger arrived on scene, she was clinically dead.

Her husband, Michael Smith, 36, had no idea what was happening. The Smiths had arrived at the doctor's office, 14424 Bruce B. Downs Blvd., at about 10 a.m. without a checkbook.

While his wife went in for her surgery, Smith ran out to an ATM to pick up cash for her $30 co-payment.

When he returned 20 minutes later, he heard sirens headed his way. A receptionist met him at the door and told him something had gone wrong. His heart sank.

Gennusa, a medic for 10 years, said he had seen people thrust into cardiac arrest like this at least 100 times. Rarely does someone in Smith's condition make a full recovery. When they do recover, they often are incapacitated for the rest of their lives.

Still, he and Rineberger set about trying to save her. Gennusa, 31, administered CPR. Rineberger, 24, hooked up an IV and tried to revive her heart.

They transported Smith to University Community Hospital, where emergency room doctors worked on her for seven to eight hours.

Michael Smith looked on in horror. As the nurses and doctors began to drift away in the seventh hour, Smith found himself able to breathe again. Maybe she would live. Maybe she would be okay. "It was the roughest seven hours of my life," he said.

On Friday, Tracy Smith, a Tampa Palms Elementary teacher, moved out of the hospital's Intensive Care Unit.

She propped herself up on her knees and gave Gennusa and Rineberger hugs after they explained to her what exactly she'd been through. The two have visited her every day, Michael Smith said.

"It's like a medical miracle," Gennusa said of her recovery.

Michael Smith agrees. He thanks the prayers of family and friends as well as his wife's stubbornness to live. But he also credits the medics of Engine 14-A and Rescue 74, who were instrumental in bringing her back.

"I owe them everything in the world," he said. "All I wanted was for her to be able to look at me and see me smile at her. My life without her would be meaningless . . . She makes our family whole."