On Easter Sunday, nurse Shyvonne Allen-Ibitoye went to see a movie about a superhero in Lynbrook with her son, but ended up becoming a hero in real life.
Allen-Ibitoye, a registered nurse in the cardiac telemetry unit at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside, took her son, Justin Anderson, 17, to see a matinee showing of “Shazam!” at Lynbrook’s Regal Cinemas 13. As action scenes played out on the screen, Allen-Ibitoye would soon spring into action herself. She and Justin heard what she said sounded like a man snoring loudly in the row behind them. After a closer listen, Allen-Ibitoye realized that the sound was agonal breathing, an abnormal pattern of breathing, which she likened to gasping.
“I knew I had to go over there and check on him,” said Allen-Ibitoye, of Springfield Gardens, Queens, who is specially trained to track the electrical patterns of critically ill heart patients and to monitor their heart rate, blood pressure and other vital signs, and is familiar with the sound of agonal breathing.
She made her way over to the man, DeShawn Mason, 48, of Far Rockaway, Queens, who was in an aisle seat a row behind her. She recalled that he was sweating profusely and unconscious, and she tried to wake him by shaking him, but got no response. Then she gave him a sternal rub, which she described as using her fist to firmly rub the center of his chest to gauge whether he was aware of his surroundings. He wasn’t.
As Allen-Ibitoye hurried to help Mason, the movie continued to play and the theater remained dark. She asked that the lights be turned on, but no one could help her. She said it was difficult to assess Mason in the dark, but she used her training to check his vital signs. She eventually ran to the service desk to request that the lights be turned on before returning to continue working on him.
“I realized his brain wasn’t getting any oxygen and that he had no pulse,” Allen-Ibitoye said. She couldn’t get Mason out of his seat, and as about 20 patrons in the theater gathered around, she began administering CPR.
With the help of fellow moviegoers, she lowered him to the floor, where she continued working on him as her son called 911. She gave him chest compressions with another nurse, Maria Dulcegalvez, helping her. Though they found a pulse, Allen-Ibitoye said, it was erratic.
EMTs from the Lynbrook Police Department, members of the Lynbrook Fire Department and paramedics from Northwell Health responded to the scene and used an automated external defibrillator to deliver three shocks to Mason’s heart in an effort to restore its normal rhythm. He was rushed to South Nassau, where he was diagnosed with ventricular fibrillation, a condition in which the heart quivers but does not beat. Doctors implanted a cardioverter defibrillator, which now monitors Mason’s cardiac rhythms around the clock.
“It was difficult and it was scary,” Allen-Ibitoye said. “It was an emotional time, and I actually teared up when I realized everything that was happening. I just hoped that I did all I could do to help him.”
It was heartwarming, she said, to help someone, describing it as the defining moment of her nursing career. She has been at South Nassau for a year, and spent the previous 14 years at Cohen Children’s Medical Center and Long Island Jewish Hospital as a patient care associate.
Since she works at South Nassau, Allen-Ibitoye said she could check on Mason regularly as he made a full recovery. “He could have sustained brain damage from his body not being able to pump oxygen,” she said. “So just to see him fully back to himself, it was amazing and made me feel really good.”
Allen-Ibitoye said she originally planned to attend an Easter Sunday morning Mass, but chose to go to the movies instead because she thought her son would enjoy it. “I was supposed to go to church that morning, and I kind of felt bad that I didn’t go,” she said, “but I guess I was where I needed to be.”
She was lauded at a news conference at South Nassau on May 2 for her quick action. One of the attendees was Mason, who publicly express his gratitude. He said he was attending the 11:55 a.m. showing of “Shazam!” with his 7-year-old grandson, and remembered drinking a large Slurpee before the incident, but blacked out as it unfolded. Patrons later comforted his grandson until a family member picked him up from the theater.
“I feel like there was divine intervention,” he said. “If she, Mrs. Allen-Ibitoye, had not been there, I don’t know if I would be here. It seems like everything happened for a reason, and now I have what I need to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
South Nassau’s president and CEO, Richard J. Murphy, praised Allen-Ibitoye for her quick action under pressure. “She responded to check on a stranger in a darkened movie theater, and helped save his life,” Murphy said. “She is exactly the kind of nurse we’re proud to work with here at South Nassau. . . . We are so very proud of Shyvonne for her life-saving actions.”
Allen-Ibitoye said it was a team effort, involving all the first responders, and she encouraged anyone who could to learn CPR. She noted that after the ordeal, employees at Regal replayed the movie for those who’d attended the 11:55 showing, and added that she was grateful to be able to help Mason.
“I just keep thinking, if I didn’t do anything, the turnout could have been so different,” she said. “His whole family would have been affected by his loss if I didn’t act. If you can help someone, do it.”