CRANFORD — For Robert Hurewitz, a long-time member of the Cranford Fire Department, the decision to dedicate his professional career to helping others was an easy one to make.
“I have wanted to be a firefighter since I was a kid,” Robert, 33, of Hopatcong, said. “I was drawn to the camaraderie and the brotherhood, and I just wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself. I wanted to find a way to help people.”
Mr. Hurewitz and his wife, Amanda Langer-Hurewitz, welcomed their daughter, Eleanor (Nora), to the world in June of 2021. Robert took a few weeks off from work to focus on his family and enjoy some time with his beautiful new baby.
“Everything was just so nice and normal,” Amanda Langer-Hurewitz said. “Nora was happy, healthy…it was like a little vacation.”
Robert returned to his position with the Cranford Fire Department in July, ready to get back to the career that he loved. At the time he had no way to know that his first day back with the squad would also be one of his last.
“Robert’s first call after he got back to work involved an unresponsive infant who seemed to be suffering from seizures,” said Amanda. “Luckily, the baby survived, but he was a brand-new dad and it was just such an upsetting thing for him to witness.”
Within 48 hours, Robert began to experience what everyone, his doctors included, assumed to be panic attacks related to the traumatic events he had witnessed in the field.
“I work in mental health, so at first, I wasn’t that concerned. I see this kind of thing a lot, so I knew how to get him through it,” Amanda said. “His doctor hooked him up with some anti-anxiety meds and he started seeing a therapist. We really thought we were on the right track.”
Then, about a week later, Robert took a turn for the worst.
“We were at his parents’ house, and it was really obvious that something wasn’t right. He couldn’t focus on anything; he didn’t know what was going on…he just looked like hell,” Amanda said. “I called his doctor and she told me to take him to the emergency room to get his meds adjusted. I know it can take a while to find the right dosages sometimes, so I still wasn’t that worried.”
When they arrived at Newton Medical Center, everything changed.
“They took his vitals about five times and none of it made sense,” Amanda said. “His heart rate was through the roof.”
About an hour later, Amanda said, her strong, healthy, vibrant husband collapsed to the ground.
“His eyes rolled back in his head, his blood pressure dropped down and they rushed him off to the ICU,” she said. “I had no idea what was going on. It was terrifying.”
What happened next can only be described as a seemingly endless nightmare.
Over the next two months, Amanda said, she watched her husband go through cardiogenic shock (a life-threatening condition in which the heart can not pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs), heart failure and kidney failure. He spent seven weeks in two different hospitals, received nine cardioversion treatments, and underwent one failed cardiac ablation that almost resulted in his death.
“Each day I was afraid to walk back into his [hospital] room because I was so afraid of whatever piece of bad news the medical team would have for me. I kept wondering if we would get to have a future together, and there were so many moments when no one could answer that for me,” Amanda said.
Now, almost six months after his ordeal began, Robert still does not have an official diagnosis.
“They let him come home in early September, and at the time, all I cared about was finding out what was wrong with him,” Amanda said, “but eventually, it stopped being the focal point. He was home and that was all that mattered.”
Though Robert’s condition has steadily improved in the time that has passed since his release from the hospital, Amanda said things are still very up in the air.
“I am grateful for every moment we are together as a family with our daughter. But our future will be different than the one we planned,” she said. “Rob’s heart damage is permanent, and he will never be a fireman again. It is likely he won’t be able to work again, period.”
The family has recently launched a GoFundMe drive to help offset some of their growing financial challenges. So far, they have managed to raise $107,792 of the $258,807 that they will need to keep their home.
“The response has been overwhelming,” Amanda said. “It’s not just the money. Total strangers have been reaching out to tell us that they’re praying for us. We’ve had friends and family members drop everything to help us take care of Nora when we weren’t able to. It has been a very humbling experience, and I can’t even begin to describe how grateful we are.”
Even though he is not likely to serve with them again, Robert said his “family at the Cranford Fire Department” has stepped up in “every way imaginable.”
“I was so lucky to be part of such an incredible group, even if I know I won’t be able to go back to it,” he said. “This has been hard, and scary, but I have so much to live for and I’m just so grateful to everyone who has tried to help us through this.”