3 Times Lucky

To say that I shouldn’t be here is an understatement. The odds of surviving Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) neurologically intact is less than 8% globally. I have survived 3 out of hospital SCAs.

January 2002, I had returned a week prior from a 2 week trip to Europe in which I had taken 24 undergrad students on a study abroad (note: I am a college professor). I heard my 3 sons upstairs discussing some computer game and went up to investigate. After standing there for a few minutes, I started feeling funny and said I was going to lie down. I made it to my bedroom before collapsing. As told to me later, my youngest son saw me fall and watched, spellbound. At that point my middle son ran in and somehow diagnosed that it wasn’t right as I was hanging off of the edge of the bed. He was playing football and said that he basically realized he couldn’t drag me (he was 10 at the time) so he put his best block on me to knock me off of the bed. It was a good one. I landed hard on the floor on my back, my left leg slamming into the dresser. I started gasping and breathing. My wife heard the commotion and called 911. They all stood watch over me until the paramedics arrived and took me to the hospital. At the hospital they ran a battery of tests over a couple of days but in the end sent me home. I now had a cardiologist, however.

Survival 1

Steve's kids playing hockey

Fast forward to February 2005. I am referring a youth bantam hockey game with my oldest son on a Saturday afternoon. I had finished one game and we were well into the 2nd period of the next one when I realized I couldn’t stay up with the action. I got through the end of the period and as we sat in the official’s box, my son said I looked horrible and that he was worried about me. I said something to the effect of ‘I’m fine, I’ll call a few extra penalties to keep the game in the half ice most of the3rd period…”  I finished the game and felt fine. As we sat in the locker room, I said I was going home to take a nap (he had another game to ref). As I left the parking lot, I decided that the feeling had been weird enough that I probably should go the ER. I had to stop twice on the way to keep from passing out but made it to the parking lot. As I walked in the door I went down with another SCA. I woke up in the intensive care unit with my family looking in from outside. This time, they decided to send me to the University of Wisconsin Medical Center to get worked up. Once, there, the cardiologists (young electro physio types and older traditional types) discussed at great length the value of giving me an ICD and whether I warranted it. Needless to say the senior doc won the argument and I was sent home with a beta blocker as my new drug of choice.

Survival 2

Forward now to February 2008. This time it is a morning that I will not forget. I stopped in at my son’s high school to discuss a grade with his teacher (remember, I am a professor and would normally never do this, but thought it was really questionable). Needless to say it was a stressful discussion at 7:30 in the morning. I left and thought that I needed to lift some weights to take my mind off of the discussion so drove to the YMCA. While doing some bench presses I again felt very strange and knew it was not good given my previous experiences. I was lifting with a couple of my students and they wanted to call 911, but I said not to, that the hospital was only a mile away and I would drive. As I exited the building I was blasted by our nice Wisconsin weather and the cold revived me. I proceeded to head to the hospital. Just as I was pulling into the parking lot, I started to pass out. I knew I wouldn’t make it so I aimed my car at the ER Doors (that was how my thinking was at this point). Thankfully, I crashed into a snowbank. That would have been end of story except that a policeman was cruising the parking lot and saw me crash. He later said that he was inside my car asap and doing CPR immediately. Almost simultaneously paramedics excited the ER having dropped someone off and saw the commotion over at my car. They immediately took over, and got me out of the car and continued the CPR. It was at this point that I gained infamy with them as I woke up and grabbed the fireman doing the CPR and asked him why he was doing it. Needless to say, he stopped and was stunned. I, of course, lapsed back into unconsciousness. One of his colleagues took over and the same thing happened again, where I evidently said why are you still doing this??? By then they shocked me and I awoke. Now it was time to go into the ER and I suggested that we walk to which they all laughed. Fast forward, I am transferred to UW Hospital again and this time, no argument, I receive my ICD.

Survival 3

Each time I returned to work within a week and have continued to teach since then. I am now on my 3rd ICD and have been shocked a total of 21 times in the fourteen years since receiving my first one. I have gone through several different beta blockers over the years. I learned that on the third survival that I had been part of a randomized test for a couple of new tools called the RES Q System. As a result, I ended up meeting the researchers at a later date, and became involved as a board member with Take Heart America. Last year I was asked to take over as Executive Director. This has really spurred me to tell my story more often and to highlight the need for not only trained people, but the right technology such as AEDs and other advanced tools for responders. I think that for many years I didn’t realize just how lucky I was to have survived, let alone be able to go back to work and raise my family. I know now and am determined to help prevent the still unconscionable number of deaths due to SCA in this country and world-wide. There is so much that can be done, simply that it is crazy that we have not moved the needle on neurologically intact survival since records have been kept. There are a lot of great individual location stories, but nationally it is still a black hole. Take Heart America is determined to make a difference and I hope that you will join us in this effort. I am one of the lucky ones.

.08 x .08 x .08 = .0005 chance of neurologically intact survival out of hospital. In other words, for me, a complete miracle each time. This needs to happen to a whole lot more people, which is why I am working with Take Heart America to help increase survivorship!