Care Ride driver Robert Parissi and Diana Gansel in front of the Gansel’s home.
ST. PETERSBURG - Diana Gansel was deliberate and measured as she searched for just the right words. Standing in front of her idyllic pink St. Petersburg bungalow with a new family hero, she said she had to get it right.
“It’s so amazing, it was absolute perfection,” she said about the heroic actions of Care Ride van driver Robert Parissi.
Her friendly demeanor and inviting smile belied the sadness and loss she and her family were enduring: Her husband and family patriarch, 80-year-old Klaus Gansel had passed away the previous day. Thanks to Parissi, however, his departure was not nearly as early as it might have been.
Friday, Jan. 3, started like a typical day for the 42-year-old Parissi. He was transporting wheelchair bound community members to and from appointments just as he had done for the last three years at Care Ride – a parallel transit provider for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.
Shortly after 9 a.m., Parissi headed to his next appointment to pick up Mr. Gansel at his Burlington Avenue home. As he pulled up to the curb, Parissi saw Gansel waiting in his usual spot on the front patio and the customer began making his way toward the street. However, as the driver approached the elderly gentleman, Gansel suddenly slumped forward in his wheelchair.
“I wasn’t sure if he was asleep or on medication, so I shook his shoulder to see – and he didn’t respond,” Parissi said. “I checked for breathing and a pulse and as soon as I realized that he didn’t have one, I took him out of the chair, laid him on the ground and started doing compressions.”
Parissi, like all drivers for Care Ride, receives intensive and ongoing training on how to administer CPR, but this was the first time he ever needed to use it.
After a few minutes of compressions and with his own heart racing from adrenaline, Parissi came to the frightening realization that his cell phone was still in the van and that he had to get it and call for help.
“I ran to the van as fast as I could, grabbed it and ran back to continue the compressions,” he said.
After a few more minutes, he managed to call 911 while continuing CPR.
“They tried asking me questions, but I told them I couldn’t answer until help arrived,” he said. Fortunately, it wasn’t long before emergency responders were on the scene and took over. As they put Mr. Gansel into the ambulance, Parissi noticed that one of the responders looked very familiar.
The year 2013 was not kind to Klaus Gansel where health was concerned. In January, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He underwent chemotherapy and radiation and although the treatment was taking care of the cancer, it was also taking a toll on his heart. Nonetheless, the Navy veteran continued to fight and managed to hold his own for most of the year.
Unfortunately, a second round of chemo was needed and that began to get the better of the old sailor. And so it happened that around the same time Parissi was coming up the walk that Mr. Gansel’s heart stopped beating.
“We knew it was coming and it wasn’t a surprise,” his wife Diana said. “But we can’t thank Robert enough for what he did - he gave us another week with Klaus.”
That brief but precious time made it possible for other members of the Gansel family to come down and say goodbye.
“For that,” she said, “we are eternally grateful and want to ensure that Robert is recognized for actions that even the intensive care unit employees say was ‘perfect.’ They tell me that everybody involved did exactly what they were supposed to do and exactly the way it was supposed to be done.”
Parissi demurs when told what experts are saying about his performance and says he’s just glad he could do it.
“This whole thing has been incredible. You never know how you’re going to react when something like this comes up – you just hope you get it right.”
He’s also quick to credit his CPR instructors and their attention to detail during his training sessions.
“They teach you how to make proper compressions and to use the old 70s song,
‘Stayin’ Alive’ as a rhythm guide to giving them. So the whole time I was giving CPR, I had that song going through head. It’s now one of my favorite songs,” he said.
The Gansel family said it’s become one of their favorites too. And the familiar face in the ambulance turned out to be the instructor who taught Parissi CPR.
Klaus Gansel passed away shortly after 3 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 8. He did regain consciousness after the events of Jan. 3 and was able to interact with his family before passing. He will receive full military honors.