In 2010 I was feeling pretty good. I was married to my wonderful wife, Kayo, and living in a great neighborhood in the small town of Hickory, NC. We had children and grandchildren to add to our lives!
I was working for a large computer related company, and things were going well. I was healthy with some nice hobbies. I was a member of the National Ski Patrol. If you you like to snow ski, I am one of those people that come skiing down the mountain with a big white cross on their back. If someone was injured or just need a way down our local mountain, I could bring them down the mountain in one of sleds, and get them to the bottom where they could get help. My golf handicap had fallen to single digit level and floated around 8 or 9, and I walked when I played 18 pulling my golf cart.
As a a senior instructor with the ski patrol, in the fall of 2010 I prepared for a presentation on Heart issues such as Heart Attack and what ski patrollers need to be aware of as to the signs of a Heart attack. On September 11, 2010 I attended our Instructor meeting and gave a presentation on the basics of the symptoms of Heart attack. We are not doctor’s but as first responder types, patrollers need to get people to a higher standard of care if we see something life threatening.
On September 12, 2010 I was on the golf course, walking as normal, I had a great front 9 holes, and as I recall, I was 2 under par, which was a first for me. Three of us were walking and thankfully one of our group members, Ted, was driving a golf cart. We made the turn to the back nine. I was on number 10 hole and hit my drive down the middle of the fairway. As I was walking down the fairway, I started feeling the area of my left arm at the bicep muscle start to feel sore. I wondered if I used to hard of a golf swing and rubbed my arm a little. On the putting green I started to feel my chest start to hurt. My main thought as I got to the number 11 tee box was that this is pretty strange, wonder what this is all about. I hit my shot to a part 3 green, and started walking. The pain started getting worse in my left arm, and in my chest as I walked to the green. I putted out and then the pain started getting severe. THIS CANT be a Heart Attack I thought. Maybe I’ll play one more hole and if this persists, I will see if I can go to the doctor.
Two of our foursome had already crossed the street. Lucky for me, Ted with the Golf Cart had not left yet to go on to the next hole. The pain got worse. The pain in my left arm was like have a blood pressure cuff on, but it was the worst and hardest one you can every feel and it won’t let go. People describe the pain in your chest as like an elephant sitting on your chest. I would say it was more like a tractor trailer full of elephants sitting on my chest. I realized that saying I’ll play one more hole was just denial. I had learned from Ski Patrol that Denial is just one more symptom of a heart attack particularly for males.
I asked Ted to wait, I needed a ride. I called my wife Kayo on the cell phone and told her I was feeling sick and needed to go to the hospital. I did not want her to know that I felt as if it was a heart attack. I did not want her to panic. I wanted to talk to Kayo because I did not think I was going to make it, and I wanted to hear voice thinking it would be the last voice I would hear. I knew there was a defibrillator (AED) at the pro shop. But since I was still on my feet, I decided an AED was no help, I knew I needed oxygen to survive a trip to the hospital.
You are supposed to call an AMBULANCE at this point.
We live a good distance from a fire department or a rescue squad. My wife and I decided that neither one of these would help. She suggested we call my friend Graham. I agreed. So she called Graham, and I got in the cart with Ted to ride to the house to meet Graham. Luckily, we were at the main road through the neighborhood, not far from my house. We headed to the house and tossed my golf bag in the front lawn. About that time Graham comes roaring in with his wife Lynn and his big RED pick-up truck.
As an aside, Graham’s truck was truly a BIG RED Pickup with a big V8 that roared when he hit the gas. By Red, I mean a really bright red. No one would get in the way of this truck.
By the time I got in the truck, the pain was so severe I could barely hold on. In fact, it was so bad it was the kind where you grip something, in this case the seat door handle, and squeeze as hard as you can just to bear up under what you are going through. I started to worry I could go unconscious. Kayo also headed out to meet us at the hospital.
I continued to think that what I really needed was oxygen to live so I asked them to get me to a fire dept since they would likely have oxygen. Graham agreed, and headed at probably 100 mph at times to a fire dept on the way to Frye hospital. Little did I know at the time what a good call these decisions were. Lynn then called 911. They alerted the fire dept to be ready with oxygen when we came tearing in, and they put an ambulance in route to the fire dept.
As Graham came screeching in to the Fire Dept I saw a fireman running out with his oxygen pack which he quickly then used to get a non-rebreather mask on me. Within seconds the ambulance arrived and put me on a gurney and loaded me up. Off I go again now headed to the hospital. Frye Memorial is near downtown so the ride was close. The Emergency room team called in over a speaker that I could hear, to give me Nitroglycerin to keep me going. The ambulance attendant was a guy in his 50’s like me, and had just taken my blood pressure. He even told me my systolic pressure was about 60, so I knew I was in serious trouble. When the order came out to give me nitro, the attendant told them NO! I was lucky that day and I learned something. He knew that nitro could lower my blood pressure 10 points and if it hit 50, I could die in the ambulance so he rejected the order and the doctor agreed.
As we pulled into the emergency room area, I could see Kayo standing in the parking lot waiting. She was very upset. Even through my intense pain my first reaction was that I felt so sorry to do this to her.
They took me out of the ambulance and I was amazed at how fast they got me inside. There was a fantastic cardiologist on call, so one more time I was very lucky he was in the hospital. We went in a room and he hooked me up to some machines. He told me I needed two stints, right now, so away we go. I am still conscious so he told me everything he was doing, and said I could watch on a computer screen. I could see him working to put in the stints but it would not work. He never showed any alarm but he finally said they were assembling a team. In 5 minutes, he would call them in, they would knock me out, and cut me open to work on my heart. Then he surprised me and said he wanted to try one more time on the stints. By the way, the pain is still incredible, especially in my chest. As he tried for the last time, a stint went in its proper place. I felt an immediate sense of pain reduction. He said I needed one more, and tried that. I knew he was successful because all the pain in the chest and arm stopped. We were likely down to just seconds before the team would have been called in to do emergency surgery. What a relief!
I live in a small town with a population that was probably 33,000 in 2010. I wondered if I was about to be sent by helicopter to some place like Duke University Hospital, or Baptist Hospital, some of the famous places like that. At the time I did not realize I was in exactly the right place to go through this medical event.
The medical team decided I was still too weak to undergo heart surgery. I will call it a gamble, but they decided to have me stay in the hospital for 5 days to see if they could get me healthy enough to survive surgery.
Frye Memorial had just completed creating a new/modern Cardiac Intensive Care unit. The surgeon who would work on me was one of a limited number of surgeons in the country (much less North Carolina) who could operate on a heart while it was beating. (I heard that normally they stop the heart for surgery, then restart it). Actually, I later learned I had two surgeons and was in surgery for 7 hours.
I suppose most people have heard of Quadruple bypass surgery. Pretty serious stuff! When I woke up the nurse told me I had 6 bypasses. I had never even heard of that before. They showed me an EKG they had taken before surgery and showed me what they called a Widow maker pattern. It’s as bad as it sounds. I started getting visitors that were all nurses. They told me they just wanted to see me and my chart. They had not seen a survivor of this kind of heart attack before. Apparently, it is a lower odds kind of thing.
My surgeon, my new hero, came in to talk. He said he held my heart in his hand and it was very interesting. He said that despite the severity of my Heart Attack, that my heart muscle itself had no damage. He remarked that he had seen that kind of think in snow skiers before, and that it seemed that skiing had a way of helping build Heart muscle. (Maybe it was to make me feel better or maybe Ski Patrol contributed to saving my Life). He was well aware of all the decisions we started making on the golf course and in route. Even though we did many things that were not by the book, my surgeon said each and every decision worked together to help me stay alive, and if any one of them had not worked, I would probably not have made it.
I often wonder why I survived a Heart event with low survival odds. Is there something I was supposed to learn? Is there some special purpose I am still supposed to perform? Am I simply supposed to tell people this story?
In truth I have no idea. I know that God at least decided my time was not up, and with this surgery and other things, has so far given me 9 more years. I don’t think all the luck I had and all the accidentally correct decisions that were made by several people along the way, are really just luck. There is certainly some providence out there that can help us if we ask. Maybe that’s the lesson.
As for the title of this story, the kids and Kayo call the anniversary of my Heart Attack, my Heartiversary !!!