Oscar Royce died shoveling this past weekend.
The 81-year-old Gloversville resident was out moving snow from his 5 Prospect Ave. driveway Saturday afternoon when he suffered an apparent heart attack. A passing neighbor noticed Royce was down and called 911, but by the time Gloversville city police and Fulton County Ambulance Service crews arrived, Royce was beyond help.
Gloversville police Capt. John Sira said Royce had some heart problems and likely overexerted himself.
Snowstorms are often followed by heart problems.
“People spend a lifetime building up plaque in their arteries,” said Tom Pasquarelli Jr., executive director of the Greater Amsterdam Volunteer Ambulance Corp. “Then all of a sudden they step outside with a shovel and put their bodies through the wringer.”
On an average day, GAVAC crews might respond to one or two chest pain calls scattered across Montgomery County and parts of Fulton County. Last Friday, when most people were shoveling out from a foot or more of dense snow, Pasquarelli said they responded to four chest pain calls and one cardiac arrest.
The trend extends past one day of statistics.
“We tend to transport a lot more heart patients in the fall and winter than we do in the spring and summer,” Pasquarelli said.
He couldn’t blame strenuous shoveling for every heart-related call over the winter, but said snow is a big factor.
“Cardiac episodes don’t usually just happen,” he said, “They’re caused by something.”
A person such as Royce might have some variety of heart disease or clogged arteries, he explained, but until the circulatory system is taxed, things probably won’t fail.
For many people, Pasquarelli said, shoveling can be that final straw. Information released this month by the Montgomery County Department of Public Health listed a few heart-related shoveling tips. Among them: Lift with your legs; stick to the fresh powdery snow or use a smaller shovel; stay hydrated; and stop working if you feel chest pain, dizziness or nausea. Those are heart attack warning signs.
Oscar’s wife, Carolyn Royce, was in their apartment at the time of his heart attack.
“I called him the Energizer Bunny,” she said of Oscar. “He thought he was Superman.”
In the summer Royce went fishing. In the winter he shoveled. Carolyn said he hated sitting still, which would have been fine if not for the heart problems.
As it was, Royce’s activity brought on two previous heart attacks and a stroke.
Saturday, Carolyn said, he wanted to get out and shovel. Their driveway was mostly clear, but dense snow from the garage roof was falling in a mounds behind their car.
It wasn’t even enough snow to stop the car from pulling out, but Royce wanted to get moving.
“We had a big fight about him shoveling,” Carolyn said. “My last words to him were, ‘Go ahead. Be stupid. Shovel. Drop dead of a heart attack.’ ”
Carolyn said Oscar waited until she fell asleep in front of the bedroom TV, then took his shovel outside.
“Then it was instantaneous,” she said. “It was the one time he ever did what I told him to do.”
First-responders found Royce spreadeagle on the driveway. The coroner told Carolyn he was dead before he landed.
Visitation will be held for Royce from 11 to 1 p.m. today at Walrath & Stewart Funeral Home on Fremont Street in Gloversville.