Save Date: July 2, 2008
Just six months ago I survived V-Fib and SCA. Before this happened, I had completed four marathons, the last one just four months before this happened. I was considered by most of my family and friends to be Mr. Healthy. I don't smoke, I don't drink, I don't eat fast food, and I maintain a relatively healthy diet, with the occasional junk food splurges. I love challenges, and running marathons and seeing how far I could push my body was a great way to set goals for myself and then swell with pride when I crushed them.
This past July, I was out running through the city training for an ultra-marathon. After two miles into it, I stopped to get a drink of water and suddenly got light-headed, my vision got really dark and I fainted. I came to just a few moments later lying on the sidewalk with the strangest intense tingling sensation running through my body, and of course a headache from where my head smacked the pavement. I walked back to where I started from and decided to call it a day. I went to the doctor the next day where he diagnosed it as vasovagal syncope, but ordered a holter monitor "just in case" and told me to wear it for a week. It was supposed to be delivered to me within two to three days.
I felt great the next day, called a few running partners and asked them to go out running with me. Only one showed up, but I told her she would just have to catch me by herself if I fainted again, obviously joking of course. We started the run, and about 1-2 miles into it, I told her I was feeling light-headed and sick and needed to stop. She said I leaned against a telephone pole and just collapsed. My heart went into V-Fib then SCA. That incident probably doesn't sound that different from all the other stories of athletes dying suddenly on the field, or while out exercising. What makes me feel like the Lord has something in store for me is what happened next.
At the same time I collapsed on the sidewalk, a doctor who had just finished dinner was driving to the store saw me and pulled over and got out. A cardiac nurse who was out for a walk with her mother also saw me collapse and came running. A student nurse nearby heard a man just collapsed and came rushing to me. An EMT nearby saw me, and a policeman who was a former paramedic driving by in his patrol car saw me. Within a minute or two, I had five medically trained people hovering around me. The doctor and cardiac nurse were doing CPR and checking for vitals, watching for eye dilation, and were prepping me for when paramedics arrived. The policeman who carried a breathing mask in his car was breathing me and on the radio, the EMT was on the phone with 911 and the student nurse was pulling a stethoscope from her purse and helping with CPR.
The cardiac nurse was relaying information to the EMT who was relaying it to the paramedics who were enroute. After what I was told was about 15 minutes, the nurse found that the paramedics were still too far away, she had him call the fire department where her husband worked. She told them to send over the first-responder vehicle with the AED onboard. The fire department was less than a mile away and would be there in minutes. At that point, my CPR was already into its twentieth minute. The AED finally arrived and they immediately put it on me and started defibbing me. I was told they shocked me twice on the street when the paramedics got there and took over. They put me in the ambulance and continued to shock me 3-4 more times when my heart finally start beating again. The fireman (the cardiac nurses husband) who was riding in the ambulance said that after the last shock, I opened my eyes and said, "Please dont shock me again because it hurts".
At the hospital, I went through the regular battery of tests including a heart cath, MRI's, MRA's, cat scans, you name it. I was found to have a congenital defect, an anomalous right coronary artery which was getting compressed between the aorta and pulmonary artery. Supposedly, because I was a distance runner, and my training regime had recently intensified dramatically to prepare for a mountain ultra-marathon, it strengthened my heart to the "straw-that-broke-the-camels-back" point. I was told that they would have to do open heart surgery and bypass the right coronary artery by using the mammary artery and possibly put in an ICD. After the surgery and weeks of recovery, I was evaluated for the ICD, and told that I was "all better." My V-Fib was a result of a blood flow problem, and no ICD was needed. I was put on a beta-blocker and daily aspirin and told to enjoy my life as normal. Here just two weeks ago after another follow up with the cardiologist, I was told I was too healthy to be on the beta-blockers and to come off of them. My daily aspirin was reduced from an adult to a baby-aspirin, and the doctor said I could do anything I used to do. At this point, I had already begun running three to four times a week again, and was told that if I wanted to do another marathon, to go for it. So I am eyeing one for the middle of next year. The cardiologist said that if I decide to do the marathon, to come back to him for a head-examination though. :-)
The cardiologist told me that after having V-Fib and SCA, and then being kept alive for 20+ minutes on just CPR alone, it was nothing short of a miracle to be living. I do believe that. To have had five people, all with medical backgrounds see me just on the side of the road in a small town with a population just over 9000, and keep me alive was certainly a miracle. I will believe nothing else.
The doctor who was doing the CPR is now my primary care physician. I told him that if he can keep me alive, he can fix a cut and a cold. The policeman I went to visit a few months ago, and he hugged me the minute he saw me. He said, "No offense, but I am looking at a dead man." He said he shouted in joy when he called the hospital and they told him I was awake and talking. I got to meet the paramedics and hug their necks and thanked them for the electrifying ride to the hospital. I have been able to speak with both nurses on the phone, but am still trying to meet them. I have stopped by the fire department several times to meet the fireman, but he is always gone. The fire chief was there, and he was there that day on the side of the road watching. He said he watched the nurse check my pupils several times and said they were fixed and dilated, but still refused to stop CPR. I wrote a letter to the EMT, but haven't been able to meet him yet.
So for the most part, I am 100% again. I have a big scar down the center of my chest, and the muscles are still numb, and of course, I am constantly being asked "Are you still doing ok?", but hey, who cares. I have a wife and two small children that need me around, and I am so blessed to be here for them.
One of the first things I did was have my kids checked by a pediatric cardiologist and they were given the all clear. I then went and got re-certified in CPR and AED. I refuse to be the one that will stand by and watch someone die because I dont know what to do. I am hoping to buy an AED soon too.
Another thing I thought of is that, seven months ago, I knew that I had always been told to eat right and exercise and you will live a long and healthy life. I know differently now because of my experience, but most others are still just like I was. So when I go out with my running groups, or at large events, I am always on the watch for that person to go limp like I did. I also keep encouraging people to learn CPR, although I think they believe I just want them to be there for me when I go for Round Two (joking of course).
A reporter from my local paper ran a story on me. He got most of the story right, but left out a lot of info. Aside from that and besides telling people every now and then, this is the first time I sat and wrote it all out. As long winded as it was, I left out a lot of the small details that people told me later, almost all of which involved them explaining why I shouldn't have lived and being utterly amazed that I did. I think it got to me at first, but now, that is yesterday's news. I still enjoy telling the story because it really shows how you never know when you are going to find yourself in a situation where your actions can result in someone living or dying, and to be prepared for that moment 24/7. Thankfully, I had five people right there that were ready to go.
Read the story from the local paper.