When a group of people come together to help a family raise their children we say, affectionately, “It takes a village,” and sometimes, that village steps up during tragedy to raise the entire family up as well. This was certainly the case for the Tsang family following the heartbreaking events that transpired on September 18, 2021.
It was a Saturday morning like any other on Devon Road when Essex Fells Resident Ken Tsang decided to go for a run before his wife left for book club. Ken took his usual route around the neighborhood, but despite being in good physical health, tragedy struck as he neared the end of his run. With only a five-minute walk to his home ahead of him, Ken slowed to exchange pleasantries with his neighbor Jason Freda as Jason drove past on his way back from picking his son up from a sleepover. Jason joked that Ken was “making him look bad” since they often run together, but Jason hadn’t been able to make it recently. As Mr. Freda drove away, he “heard Ken’s feet scrape on the ground” and when he looked in his rearview mirror, he noticed that Ken had collapsed. Fellow Essex Fells Resident Michael Constantino witnessed the incident from his window and both Michael and Jason rushed to Ken’s side. Mr. Constantino called 911 as Mr. Freda checked to see if Ken was breathing.
Officer Brogan of the Essex Fells Police Department happened to be around the corner on Fells Road that morning and quickly responded to the call. When Captain Jones arrived at the scene, he could not detect a pulse, so he began CPR. Captain Jones has EMT training and according the Chief Volker the department’s thorough medical training administered by Sergeant Joseph Matrisciano also played a big part in the extraordinary care given to Mr. Tsang. Captain Jones hooked Ken up to their AED all in under 2 minutes from the 911 call and miraculously, Mr. Tsang regained his pulse and began to breathe again. Surprisingly, AED’s were not always a staple in Essex Fells Police cars but, fortunately for Ken Tsang, Essex Fells resident Dean DeStefano and her husband had donated the first AED to the department in the 90’s, allowing Essex Fells officers to save lives more quickly and efficiently.
Mrs. Lillie Tsang was enjoying a lovely morning with her eight-year-old daughter, Fiona, and their rescued dog, Dixie, when officers pulled up to her residence. Construction on the Tsang home meant that the doorbell was not connected, and Lillie only noticed the officers as they drove away. Upon checking her phone and seeing multiple missed calls from Jason and the Essex Fells Police Department, Lillie thought that Dixie had dug under their fence and escaped again; a health emergency with Ken never crossed her mind. After receiving the news, Lillie grabbed her daughter, still in pajamas from the night before, and rushed to the scene. When Ken was transported to Mountainside Hospital, Captain Jones followed Mrs. Tsang to drop Fiona off with the women from her book club who generously offered to watch her daughter and then he drove her to the hospital to be with her husband.
After arriving at Mountainside Hospital, Ken received imaging confirming a 98% blockage of plaque and that he would require emergency surgery to have a stint placed. Jason Freda as well as another Essex Fells resident and Mountainside Doctor, Cecelia Lavezzo, stayed with Lillie and comforted her while she waited in the hospital. Ken finally emerged from a successful surgery, but unfortunately, although he was responsive in recovery, he slipped into a coma and for 16 days his family waited and hoped for a miracle. It was a “very scary time” for Mrs. Tsang, but her village showed up when she needed them most.
Lillie described how “the whole town came together,” a fact that does not surprise Captain Jones or Officer Brogan who know what a tightknit community Essex Fells is. Jason Freda, who has been an Essex Fells resident since 2009 finds it “inspiring” how much support the town gave to the family and recalls altruism in Essex Fells over the years where residents “donated time or money” to community members in need, whether it be banding together to support a family due to a tragic event like the one that happened to the Tsangs or raising $75,000 for the unemployed during a global pandemic.
Ken and Lillie were overwhelmed by the “love and support of the community.” A meal train was started, neighbors picked Fiona up from school, and Lillie even received notes on her front door “from people [she] had never met, offering to walk the dog.” Amazingly Ken regained consciousness and was reunited with his family right before Halloween. “Everybody had a tear in their eye” when the family reconnected with Ken’s rescuer, Captain Jones, at the Halloween parade that week. Attending rehab at the Kessler Institute and outpatient therapy have helped return Ken to his family as the husband and father they’ve always known and loved; however, it is the courageous efforts of Captain Jones and Officer Brogan that were the real saving force in this scenario. Had these men not responded so swiftly to the call and known exactly what to do to keep Mr. Tsang alive, the family would have lost their patriarch. Chief Volker describes the event as a “perfect storm” and recognizes that the “medical training and experience” of Captain Jones coupled with the “calmness and ability to handle high stress situations” of Officer Brogan are what saved Ken’s life and he “couldn’t have asked for two better officers” to respond to the scene. Now the Tsangs “get to go on as a family and watch [their] beautiful daughter grow” together and “it is only possible because of Jason Freda, Officer Brogan, Captain Jones and all the health care workers who saved Ken’s life. Lillie and Ken are “so grateful to everyone in Essex Fells and know that so many things would have been different if [they] didn’t move to this wonderful little town.”