UNIVERSITY AREA — The afternoon of July 15, Wayne LaPorte collapsed on the floor of the shower. The color of his limp body went from olive to purple.
His wife called 911.
"I think my husband's had a heart attack," Susie LaPorte cried into the phone.
On Tuesday — almost two months to the day of that health scare — Wayne LaPorte met the Hillsborough Fire Rescue personnel credited with saving his life.
They were people like Bruce Graham, the emergency dispatcher whose calming voice assuaged his wife's fears and guided her through resuscitative techniques.
And Bobby Kostopoulos, a Hillsborough Fire Rescue captain who was among the first to arrive at the LaPortes' Carrollwood home.
"They're the heroes," said Susie LaPorte, as she and her husband stood in the middle of a large circle of men in pressed white and Carolina blue uniforms.
Wayne LaPorte walked around the circle and shook their hands.
"Pleasure to meet you," he said to the men gathered outside Fire Station No. 14 on E 131st Avenue. "Thank you."
What else do you say to the people who brought you from death to life?
What else can you say?
"That's the only way I could figure to show my appreciation," Wayne LaPorte said.
A member of the Rough Riders krewe, he also gave his rescuers navy and gold T-shirts, caps, beads and teddy bears.
"It's a little token of my appreciation," he told them. "It's nothing compared to what y'all did."
Until Tuesday, when Hillsborough Fire Rescue crews re-created that July afternoon, Wayne LaPorte had no idea what exactly the emergency workers had done to revive him.
Tears welled in his wife's eyes as she watched the demonstration of rescuers' so-called Pit Crew concept, a new procedure with mechanical CPR and advanced life support. Just as in race car driving, everyone was assigned a task.
Two emergency workers wrapped a band around a dummy's body. Two others activated a machine linked to the band. They stepped back and watched as the machine did the resuscitative work for them.
"It's just amazing what the rescue teams can do," she said.
Wayne LaPorte spent seven weeks at Tampa General Hospital before he was released on Sept. 2.
"Felt great when I walked through that door," he said.
He and his wife went to Ledo Beach in Sarasota, where they have a time share, and just relaxed.
He said he has reduced the stress in his life, shaved 30 pounds off his frame and wears a pacemaker.
"It doesn't always happen that things work out this well," said Kostopoulos, one of the lifesavers. "This was a happy ending. There's no doubt about that. We love seeing stuff like this. We don't get this kind of interaction with the people that we actually do save."
Rodney Thrash can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 269-5303.