After suffering a massive heart attack on February 26, the road to recovery has been challenging for longtime Cutchogue firefighter Michael Lessard, Sr.
But, sitting in his Cutchogue home Sunday surrounded by his son, Michael, Jr., and his longtime friend and former Cutchogue Fire Chief Dave Fohrkolb, Lessard, smiling, said it’s been a journey filled with love and the power of a community coming together with prayer and support to help him through his darkest hours.
After his heart attack, Fohrkolb started a Go Fund Me page, “Helping Hearts for Mike Lessard”, to help Lessard pay his bills and have time heal without any burdens to bear. So far, the page has raised $11,125.
“I have known Mike my entire life and worked with him extensively during my tenure as Chief of the Cutchogue Fire Department,” Fohrkolb said at the time. “Mike has dedicated his life to helping others.”
And in his time of need, the community opened their arms and gave back, not only with money, but with prayer, both Lessard and Fohrkolb said. And since he’s been home, friends have brought food, given him rides, and sent cards.
The outpouring had deeply touched Lessard, his voice filled with emotion as he described the love of the community he calls home.
Warm sunshine sparkling on the water outside, Lessard sat in his Cutchogue home, which is filled with photos of his family and his baby granddaughter Madelyn Grace, as well as years of fire department awards, photos and memorabilia.
After the cold winter’s health crisis, Lessard said spring is a new beginning. “I feel great,” he said. Gesturing to his son and Fohrkolb, he said, “Look who I have sitting beside me.”
He came home on March 9, 30 lbs. lighter and with a new respect for the gift of life — and with a fierce gratitude to all who stepped forward.
“This community is amazing,” he said. “I can’t thank everyone enough. This is why I’m sitting here today. So many people and organizations helped out. How do you even begin to pay back something like that?”
Turning to the pair beside him, Lessard said, “My son and my best friend stepped up to the plate.”
But for Fohrkolb, helping his longtime friend came naturally. “This is what we do when you’e sick. Everyone feels compelled to help. The whole community did this; I just gave it a jump-start.”
In a coma for six days, Lessard said when he woke up, he saw the faces of his son and best friend beside his bed. To his son, he said, “This young man never left my side. He made all the right decisions.”
His brothers and sister, Jim, Tim, and Corinne, were there every step of the way, too, he said.
The first days were dark with fear, Fohrkolb said. “At first, we were wondering how we would be paying for a funeral,” he said.
Lessard, his son and Fohrkolb ageed it was “without a doubt, the prayer from the community” that saved him.
“I’m living proof,” Lessard agreed.
Fohrkolb said over the many years of their friendship, he’d never seen Lessard cry, until he woke from his coma and learned that the community had come together to support him with prayer and financial help so that he could recover without concerns over bills. His rent is paid, as well as his car insurance and utility bills; Lessard will have no financial worries for the months he is recuperating, he said.
“It was a moving moment,” Fohrkolb said.
Describing the moment when he got the phone call that his father was sick, Michael, Jr. said the experience was “surreal”. Rushing to Stony Brook from his Somerset, New Jersey home, his son said all he could do was pray. When he saw his father lying so motionless for six days, he said, “I wanted to switch positions with him. I would have done anything for him.”
Lessard listened, tears filling his eyes, as his son spoke.
His father’s remarkable recovery, Michael Jr. said, has reignited his belief in prayer. “The support from the firehouse and the community has been unbelievable,” he said.
Lessard, who began his career at Jamaica Hospital in 1991 working as a New York City EMT later returned to the North Fork. A past member of the Mattituck Fire Department, a current active member of the Cutchogue Fire Department and the Long Ireland Pipes & Drums Band, Lessard has been volunteering for his community since 1975, continuing his family’s long legacy of service to the fire department.
And when a man who has spent his life giving to others needed help himself, the community turned out by the hundreds to carry him through.
“All of Mike’s stars were aligned,” Fohrkolb said. “He’s one of the small percentage who has a heart attack and survives. He fought to live.” He added that the experience, as Lessard’s close friend, has been “humbling. It make you believe even more in the power of prayer.”
Lessard had been seeking treatment for pneumonia and drove himself to the hospital, where he suffered the heart attack. During his hospital stay, he battled a potentially deadly trifecta — heart attack, pneumonia, and the fever.
He wishes to thank not only the community but his physician, Dr. Vishnu Seodat, and all the nurses and hospital staff that cared for him.
After the experience, Lessard said he’s learned a life-altering lesson: “Life is definitely precious. You have to make the best of every day, every moment.” To the community, he said, “I want to thank everyone, for all you did for me.”
Looking ahead, Lessard said he’s able to drive again and will be back to work by June. “I can live a normal life.”
Of his survival, Lessard added that he plans to continue giving back. “It’s a miracle. The man upstairs has got to be behind it all. Absolutely. I’m lucky to be here. I guess God is not finished with me yet. I have more community service left.”