Twenty-two years ago, Joseph Bitetto's mother went into labor prematurely. EMTs raced to her home, administered first aid and rushed her to the hospital.
"There was blood everywhere, on the ground, on the toilet... My mom was bleeding out profusely," Bitetto told CNN. "If the EMTs didn't act accordingly and fast, she was in danger and I was in danger."
Both mother and child survived. Bitetto's grateful father thanked the doctors and police. But in the mist of chaos, he never got a chance to thank the medics.
Bitetto is now an EMT himself. And when he walked on to the stage last week to receive his diploma from the New York Fire Department, he finally met the man who saved his life.
Father put regret in writing
As his son neared completion of EMT training, Bitetto's father wrote a letter to the academy expressing regret that he never thanked the rescuers.
The fire department figured out Howard Blanck was one of the EMTs, and brought him up on stage at graduation.
"It's pretty cool to see that you had an impact on someone's life," Blanck said. "It's nice to see after all this time, the family is doing well and he is doing well and that he took it on as a profession."
Blanck, now a New York City police detective, said he was nervous to meet the family he helped save. It was a packed graduation and only a handful of people knew about the surprise.
Bitetto always knew his entrance into the world was "messy," but he didn't know the details until his reunion with Blanck.
"My mom and dad would always say, 'You've been fighting since day one.' I always thought that meant I was tough from day one, but they said I was literally fighting for my life," Bitetto said.
The new EMT said he finds deep motivation from the fact that he and the man who saved his life chose the same career.
"I think about it a lot," Bitetto said. "Because of this man, I'm a healthy man and now I have the opportunity to make sure I help people."