Mayor speaks publicly for first time after stroke

Talks about harrowing day, plans to return to work Sept. 1

After two months without speaking publicly, Mayor Michael Gonnelli, who suffered a stroke in his home on the evening of June 8, said last week that he’ll be back at work on Thursday, Sept. 1. In an interview, he also talked about the harrowing day in which he was rushed to the hospital, and how doctors told his wife he might never regain all of his functions.

“The doctor told my wife not to expect much after. He said I’d have no functions.” — Mayor Michael Gonnelli

Gonnelli is a lifelong Secaucus resident who served as the supervisor of public works before becoming mayor in 2009. His most recent four-year term began in 2013.
“You can’t get a better recovery than I got,” Gonnelli said this past week by phone. “The doctor told my wife not to expect much after. He said I’d have no functions, but I started getting them back.”
His wife Linda caught him in his kitchen when he first started feeling ill on an evening in June.
“I remember being in my kitchen around 5 o’clock, and I got dizzy,” Gonnelli said. “My wife caught me. I didn’t fall on the floor, but I don’t remember anything else. I don’t remember anything until four or five days after.”
“They came and took me to Christ Hospital for about two hours,” he added. “Then I went to Hackensack for four and a half hours for an obviously successful surgery. Then I went into Hackensack Intensive Care for about a week.”
He added. “I went to Kessler Rehabilitation Center, because it’s more acute than Hackensack, and spent one week there to come home.”
Gonnelli said he’s been working part-time at Town Hall the past week, but goes to the rehab center every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings. Gonnelli, who speaks without noticeable difficulty, said that after he comes home from the center for lunch and a shower on those days, he said he goes into Town Hall for a half day.
Gary Jeffas, the 1st Ward councilman and most senior council member, has been handling his mayoral duties during the recovery, just as if Gonnelli were on vacation.
For the past two weeks, Jeffas has dealt with a health problem of his own — blood clots in his lungs — and spent his first day back in Town Hall on Tuesday, Aug. 9.
“Since Gonnelli is very hands-on with everything at every level, I’ve been trying to go into Town Hall every day to sit with all business administrators, attorneys, and see where we are with projects,” said Jeffas, an attorney with his own practice in town, last week. “I found that keeping on top of projects to see where they are, or budgeting, matters. It’s not possible to be as hands on as Mike was, because it’s impossible to run my own business and do everything he does, so I’m trying to balance with the two.”
He said the other council members have also helped out.
The town’s website posted a notice asking the public to refrain from visiting Gonnelli while he was in the hospital, and to send any cards, gifts, or wishes to Town Hall.
“My family and I received an amazing amount of support from the community,” Gonnelli said. “I got over 1,000 cards signed by 10, 20 people, and everything really helped a lot.”
Gonnelli also said the emergency medical technicians and patrol officers helped save his life.
“Assistant Director of EMT’s Salvatore DeGennaro, EMT’s Jessica Arebalo and Brigdon Campbell, and Patrol officers Roy Sanchez-Ortega, Sgt. Michael Viggiani, Detective Sgt. Austin Hawxhurst, Police Officer Christopher Rinaldi, and Sgt. Kimberly Elphick helped me a lot,” Gonnelli added.
A stroke occurs when blood flow to a certain area of the brain is cut off, and cells begin to die. The warning signs of a stroke are numbness of face, sudden confusion or trouble speaking, blurred vision, or dizziness. If you think you may be having a stroke, call 911.

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