by Lou Mancinelli
A simple accident during the third quarter of the Philadelphia Eagles vs. Arizona Cardinals game on Sunday Nov. 11 may have saved the life of Carmen Notarianni, the second-generation owner of Carman’s Shoe Repair at 8111 Germantown Ave.
Midway through the third quarter, when Notarianni went to sit down after stretching – something he had gotten up to do a few times already since moving to the vacant seats in the aisle behind his original ones – he did not realize that his seat had popped back into the up position. As he went to sit down, he struck his left lower back on the metal part of the seat. He knew he hurt his ribs because in the days that followed it hurt every time he sneezed or coughed.
Nine days later, a sharp pain in his left chest sent the Plymouth Meeting resident and his wife, Patricia, to the emergency room at Mercy Suburban Hospital in East Norriton, minutes away from his home at around 10:30 in the evening. Through the night, doctors began to treat him for a heart attack. Because his oxygen levels were low, the doctors wanted to run a stress test. But Notarianni did not think it was his heart. After all, he does a cardio workout with his wife five times a week and lifts weights three times a week.
“The doctor seemed befuddled,” Notarianni said during a telephone interview last week.
During the pre-dawn hours, the doctor gave him a CAT scan, thinking, perhaps, Notarianni had punctured a lung when he hit the seat. The doctor had good and bad results.
On the positive side, the doctor announced that Notarianni’s heart was OK. But the bad news was the doctor noticed a small nodule on the upper apex of Notarianni’s left lung, and he would need further testing todetermine if the nodule was malignant. He went home, slept for a few hours, went to work the next day, then called his family doctor, Dr. Gerald Schomer.
The doctors arranged for a PET Scan to take place the following Friday at Chestnut Hill Hospital. Because of Black Friday they could not get the scan done that week.
“The whole time I’m thinking what are they gonna find?” Notarianni said. “My first reaction was why me, and what did I do in my past years to deserve this? I knew the answer right away. Nothing. I knew it was a part of life.”
“I was scared,” Notarianni’s wife said. “I didn’t know what to expect. I just wanted him to find out what it was and if it spread. I wasn’t thinking down the road.”
The following Tuesday, Dec. 6, Notarianni met with Dr. Scott Rosenberg, chief of pulmonary medicine at CHH to hear the results of the scan. A PET Scan is similar to an MRI. Ink is injected to a patient’s arm and travels through the body. The test scans for areas of the body that are using extra levels of oxygen, which might indicate it is overworked because of the presence of cancer.
The immediate findings confirmed there was indeed a nodule on his lungs that needed to be removed. The test showed the nodule had not spread and only existed on the lung. Still, Notarianni would have to wait until doctors could check his lymph nodes during surgery to know his fate.
Notarianni contacted Dr. Stephen Whitenack, a surgeon who is also a customer of Notarianni’s at Carman’s. Dr. Whitenack confirmed Dr. Rosenberg’s comments about having to wait for a pathological report, which would be produced after the surgery, to see if there was any more cancerous matter. Notarianni went in for surgery on Thursday, Dec. 15, around 1 p.m. He was awake that evening and remained in the hospital until the following Wednesday, Dec. 21.
“I felt really comfortable because I wasn’t dealing with a stranger,” Notarianni said. “Through the whole ordeal the doctors [and staff] at Chestnut Hill Hospital did a phenomenal job.”
The staff told him they had seen this before, and the facts that he was young and a non-smoker were in his favor. Dr. Rosenberg told him he had a 75 percent chance of being cured. In fact, Notarianni had known Mary Delaney, one of the nurses present during the operation, for years because she was the sister of his friend, Joe Delaney.
There was also Dr. Eugene Hughes, who checked in to see if he was all right. And there was Father George Thieves, of St. Francis Xavier Church in Fairmount, the priest who married Notarianni, who came to the hospital, anointed him and offered his support.
“It’s just a comforting feeling to know those people are there for you,” he said. “I felt like I was at a hotel.”
And even with uncertainty hanging over his head like a rain cloud that could transform his life from a fight to maintain a business into a fight against a disease that can kill, Notarianni was worrying about his business. While he was out of the shop, his son Andrew, 22, manned the operation. His son Ryan, 19, was taking his first college semester finals at West Chester University.
“I’m a hands-on owner,” he said. “I wanna be there regardless. I really shouldn’t have been worrying because this is a life and death thing. It’s more important.”
According to Notarianni, it is Dr. Whitenack’s opinion that the nodule has been successfully removed and that Notarianni does not need further treatment. Still, he has an appointment scheduled for Jan. 12 with an oncologist at Abington Hospital for a second opinion.
“I could not have asked for a better Christmas gift,” said Notarianni, who was born at Chestnut Hill Hospital in 1958, and lived in Mt. Airy before moving to Chestnut Hill in 1966. He attended Our Mother of Consolation grade school and Cardinal Dougherty High School before graduating from Spring Garden College. He took over the shoe repair business from his father in 1986, two years after he was married.
The spelling of the name of his business, Carman’s, differs from the spelling of both his and his father’s name, Carmen, because when they opened the store in 1937 there already was a Carmen’s Shoe Repair in Mt. Airy. Thus, Carman’s was born.
And, “for the first time in a long time,” he said, “the whole family was together for Christmas.”
Notarianni, true to his hands-on attitude, went back to work the week before Christmas. While the doctors told him he couldn’t repair shoes for at least two more weeks, he is at Carman’s answering phones and overseeing operations. He said his strength is about 80 percent. It may be four to six weeks before his strength is back to normal, but it will happen, doctors told him.
For three weeks, Notarianni and his wife told no one but the kids. He said that because he has such a big family, the last thing he would need is people calling and offering suggestions and stirring up more anxiety. But now, he wants people to know how grateful he is for how – in a matter of three weeks’ time – he went from thinking he was a healthy middle-aged man, to being worried for his life, to feeling that things are falling into place.
Perhaps it was his prayers: Notarianni is a weekly churchgoer at Epiphany of our Lord parish in Plymouth Meeting.
“The way it happened it was like God was on my side,” he said.
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