Fitness Club Merritt Island’s AED, Quick-Thinking Staff and Members Save ‘Big Frank’ Buzzo’s Life
By Maria Sonnenberg // December 28, 2022
FRANK BUZZO: Everyone took a knee and started praying – That gym is a special place.
Manny Shaw, Erik Johnson and Dana Allen: “They are three angels God sent to save me,” said Frank Buzzo after a near-death cardiac event at the gym.
BREVARD COUNTY • MERRITT ISLAND, FLORIDA – July 18 was supposed to be just another day in paradise for Frank Buzzo, but it quickly became a day in hell for the 70-year-old Cocoa resident who is very, very lucky to be alive.
Buzzo and buddy Erik Johnson had gone to the Fitness Club Merritt Island, a favorite hangout Buzzo would visit several times a week.
A world-champion weightlifter, “Big Frank” is a celebrity at the Merritt Island gym that displays photos of him lifting hundreds of pounds of weight.
At 6-feet-1-inches tall and 265 pounds, he is an imposing figure who easily earned his nickname.
Because the high school weightlifters Buzzo had taken under his wing were getting ready for a competition, Buzzo wanted to encourage them by example, so he decided to lift 425 pounds that July day.
“Frank would have hit the ground if not for Erik’s quick actions,” said Lou Manley, owner of Fitness Club.
Although Buzzo had never been sick and was in top physical shape, he nevertheless overdid it, causing his heart to fail.
“I got caught up in it, and it was too much of a good thing,” said Buzzo. “It was as if someone had turned off the light.”
The future looked bleak for Big Frank, but, fortunately, his friends were not going to let him go that easily and, fortunately again, Fitness Club Merritt Island has not one, but two, automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, at the facility.
“We think every gym should have at least one, but they are not required by the State of Florida,” said Manley. “All our staff is also trained in CPR and basic life support.”
Fitness Club team member Manny Shaw wasted no time in getting Buzzo and the AED together.
An additional stroke of luck was that retired firefighter and current nurse Dana Allen was exercising at that time, and Allen, together with Shaw and Frank’s friend, Erik Johnson, desperately tried to save Frank’s life.
“They are three angels God sent to save me,” said Buzzo.
Minutes – no, make that seconds – were precious, because Buzzo was not breathing and had no pulse. Even though emergency personnel from the Sheriff’s Office were on the scene very quickly, followed closely by a county EMS team, it would probably have been too late for him.
“Without the defibrillator, I would not be here,” he said.
It was only after two shocks from the defibrillator that Buzzo returned to the living.
“By the time EMS arrived, he was conscious and breathing on his own,” said Manley.
After a few days at Health First Cape Canaveral Hospital, Buzzo was back home, and by August he had returned to the Fitness Club, albeit with a much more moderate agenda that involves primarily coaching the high school athletes and undergoing light workouts.
“I’m not lifting anything over 50 pounds,” he promised.
He better not, or he may be in deep trouble.
“His wife told me that if I see him lifting more than 50 pounds, I should beat him with a stick,” joked Manley.
Manley acquired Fitness Club’s AEDs through Who We Play For, a nonprofit that helps prevent sudden cardiac deaths in young athletes by providing affordable ECG screenings.
Evan Ernst, co-founder and executive director of Who We Play For, was honored as a Central Florida Humanitarian in 2019 for his organization’s advocacy that led to a mandate requiring electrocardiograms for student-athletes in Brevard.
The preventable death of 15-year-old Cocoa Beach High student Rafe Maccarone, who died of cardiac arrest during a routine warmup in 2007, spurred the launch of the organization.
Physician assistant Shawn Sima knows all too well how much of a difference an AED can make, since his daughter, Stacey, was saved by the equipment. Stacey Sima is now heart screening director for Who We Play For.
The AEDs Sima helped Manley obtain for the Fitness Club are even better than the one that saved Stacey.
“They figure the size of the person’s body and knows how much shock to deliver,” said Sima of the $1,400 piece of equipment.
Who We Play For is working to change Florida law to require an AED in all gyms in the state.
“What happened to Frank is happening a thousand times a day in the United States,” said Sima.
While Frank Buzzo did not have just another day in paradise this last July 18, he knows how fortunate he is to be alive and among such good friends. A security camera video of the incident shows how the more than 100 people in the gym that day reacted to Frank’s plight.
“Everyone took a knee and started praying,” said Buzzo. “That gym is a special place.”