Not Your Average Joe

Vacaville Restaurateur Has a Team to Thank for His Life…

Kathy and Joe Murdaca

The way Joe Murdaca figures it, he was clinically dead for about 48 seconds.

It was Oct. 10, 2013, and he was driving back from his restaurant, Pietro’s No. 1, in downtown Vacaville. He was just back from a vacation and should have been relaxed, but instead wasn’t feeling well.

Suddenly, he could barely breathe. “I was gasping for air,” he recalls. A neighbor saw him driving erratically and called him to ask what was wrong. He couldn’t answer, so she called 9-1-1.

Even though he was almost home, he swerved into his son’s driveway, just down the street. “I don’t remember what I said to Joey but I was slurring my words,” recalls Joe. “He called 9-1-1 right away.”

“It took a whole team, from the doctors and nurses to the paramedics and therapists to save my life, but I’m back and I’m grateful.”
—Joe Murdaca

With two frantic calls, a team of three Vacaville firefighters and two paramedics were on the scene in minutes. Joe struggled to breathe, and then turned blue. After CPR, a 12-lead EKG determined immediately that Joe was suffering a massive heart attack. “I was oozing everywhere,” he remembers with a shudder. So off he went to NorthBay Medical Center, home to Solano County’s only Chest Pain Center.

Kathy, his wife of 37 years, was in Palm Springs when she got the call. “Come right home,” she was told, and was on a flight at 6 a.m. the next morning.

Joe, 64, doesn’t remember his trip to NorthBay Medical Center, or his visit to the cardiac catheterization lab, where Dr. Laybon Jones placed a ventricular assist device called an Impella into his chest, helping his heart beat for him.

Because of severe swelling and a possible infection, he was not a candidate for surgery right away. In fact, it was five days later before he underwent a beating heart quadruple bypass surgery, performed by cardiac surgeon Robert Klingman, M.D.

Years ago, the standard was to stop the heart and use a pump to circulate blood during surgery. The beating heart approach allows the heart to continue to function during the surgery. Not only is there less risk for bleeding and blood transfusions, kidney failure or lung problems, but recovery time is faster.

Joe’s blockage was severe. Three coronary arteries were blocked by 90 percent or more. The fourth was more than half blocked.

Joe was put on a ventilator and sedated for 19 days. During that time his body started to heal, as his family kept a fervent watch in the ICU.

After his heart attack, his kidneys started to fail. Dialysis was necessary and continued during his stay in the hospital, in rehab, and even after he was released to home. “My biggest fear was that I’d have to do this the rest of my life,” he says, remembering his frequent visits for dialysis. “Some people have no choice, but I was lucky. I got better and I don’t need dialysis anymore.”

Looking back, he realizes that prior to his heart attack, he was tiring out more easily. A climb up the steep hill to his home was overwhelming, and he’d have to stop and catch his breath. “He was pretty quiet about it, though,” says Kathy.

He was active, worked out in the gym and played a lot of golf. He also worked a lot of hours at his restaurant, a labor of love, he insists. “When you enjoy your work, it’s not really work,” he explains.

But now he tries to leave a little earlier and trusts that his team will take care of business.

It’s a hard habit to give up. His family came to the United States from Italy in 1957, when he was 8 years old. He worked to build the business from the ground up, side by side with his parents and sister. It eventually grew into 11 franchised restaurants and, of course, the original on Cernon Street.

“We introduced pizza to Vacaville,” he says proudly. “At that time, nobody here knew what a pizza was. At our grand opening, my dad gave it away so people would learn. It helped that Travis Air Force Base was in our backyard, because people who had spent time on the East Coast or in Europe knew about pizza.”

And while pizza is still 58 percent of his sales, he’s not eating as much of it these days. “It’s more salads and protein.”

“And I’m on him about the salt,” says Kathy.

They still host a family dinner once a week, and he goes to the gym every day. He’s grateful that everything happened, just in time, to save his life and give him the opportunities to visit his hometown of Calabria, Italy, to see his son get married this summer.

“It took a whole team, from the doctors and nurses to the paramedics and therapists to save my life, but I’m back,” says Joe. “I’m back and I’m grateful.”

Is it a Heart Attack?

If you experience any one of the following symptoms below for more than 5 minutes, call 9-1-1. You could be experiencing a heart attack.

  • Tightness or discomfort in the center of the chest, sometimes described as pressure, aching, burning, numbness, or a squeezing.
  • Pain or discomfort in the upper body, including left shoulder, back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • A “cold sweat.”
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Light-headedness, dizziness, extreme weakness or anxiety.
  • Rapid or irregular heart beats.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *