R.I. EMS team saves state police colonel after near-fatal wasp attack

South Kingstown EMS trio came to the aid of State Police Col. James Manni who was experiencing anaphylaxis


Mark Reynolds
The Providence Journal

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Sarah Peet, a South Kingstown paramedic, didn't know the name of the man who was nearly killed by his allergic reaction to the sting of angry yellow jackets.

But the 60-year-old patient could hear Peet's voice as he slowly regained consciousness on the floor of his bathroom on July 23.

State police Col. James Manni, with South Kingstown EMS Capt. Frank Capaldi and Paramedic Sarah Peet to his left. Paramedic Keith DeCesare is to his right.
State police Col. James Manni, with South Kingstown EMS Capt. Frank Capaldi and Paramedic Sarah Peet to his left. Paramedic Keith DeCesare is to his right. (Photo/MCT)

Rhode Island State Police Col. James Manni says he heard Peet talking about getting his pulse up. And he could hear his wife's voice, too.

"My wife kept saying, 'This is really bad," Manni recalled Monday.

The colonel woke to find Peet hovering over him.

What's going on? he asked.

He also wanted to know if the situation was really serious. Peet's answer, he recalls, was something to the effect of, "You almost died twice."

Manni described his "humbling" near-death experience in an interview with The Providence Journal on Monday afternoon, in advance of a South Kingstown Town Council meeting during which officials planned to recognize Peet and her two colleagues, South Kingstown EMS Capt. Frank Capaldi and paramedic Keith DeCesare.

Manni has not sought media attention, but he has made efforts to thank the trio, whom he regards as saviors, and to bring their life-saving work to the attention of town officials. The enormous contributions of EMS personnel in the state are frequently unsung, he says.

"The people of South Kingstown need to know what a dedicated group of professionals they have," Manni says.

He started doing yardwork

Trouble lurked under the surface as Manni came home from work on a day that he associated with his mother's birthday. It was a Friday afternoon, too.

He changed his clothes, grabbed his weed trimmer and ventured out onto the property of his South Kingstown home. He has two lush acres. Much of it is exquisitely landscaped. "It looks like Roger Williams Park," Manni jokes.

Manni does lots of stuff outside. He runs. He's a hunter. He tends to his yard, of course. Earlier in the summer, he was stung by a bee without any adverse reaction, he says. But at some point, he developed a deadly serious allergy.

So that was a lurking issue. The other issue was more subterranean from a geological perspective.

It was a yellow jacket nest in a hole — all too close to the weeds that Manni intended to whack.

The yellow jackets didn't like Manni's weed cutting. They swarmed out of their nest.

"There had to be a hundred," he says.

He was stung repeatedly. One unfortunate fact about the difference between yellow jackets and bees is that a bee can sting once, but a yellow jacket can sting repeatedly.

The pests struck Manni on his temple and his chest.

But this wasn't something for a state trooper and former member of the U.S. Secret Service to be all that concerned about, he thought.

Unconscious and in shock

Less than 10 minutes later, Manni was still pretty nonchalant as he felt the early pangs of a life-threatening allergic reaction. He didn't feel well. He thought it might be the heat. He told his wife, Tracey, that he was headed upstairs to take a cold shower.

In the bathroom, he turned on the cold water.

He passed out, slumped downward and against a cabinet. Manni is grateful his wife happened to be home.

She found Manni unconscious, with his eyes wide open. He says she couldn't find a pulse and she thought he was dead.

Manni was in anaphylaxis shock.

Her 911 call brought an EMS unit to the house.

Craig Stanley, the chief of Emergency Medical Services for the Town of South Kingstown, has respected the deadliness of stings and anaphylaxis shock since the earliest days of his career.

The first heart attack he dealt with as paramedic was a patient in anaphylaxis shock.

When Peet, Capaldi and DeCesare first found Manni, the colonel's heart was not pumping enough blood throughout his body, Stanley says. Manni's blood pressure was critically low.

"It doesn't get much lower," he says.

Manni says he didn't respond to the first course of epinephrine administered by the paramedics. The second dose brought him back.

Sting kills someone every year in RI

After they revived him, the South Kingstown EMS unit took Manni to South County Hospital. He was home by midnight on that Friday night and back at work by Monday.

Manni says his allergist later told him that each year in Rhode Island, a person dies from an allergic reaction to a sting. The doctor told him he could have been that one person. It was sobering.

He has retired from yard work, he says, and he carries an EpiPen, which can inject epinephrine. He also carries a desire to see EMS personnel recognized for their good deeds.

©2021 www.providencejournal.com. Visit providencejournal.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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