That Richard Kean is alive is nothing short of a miracle. So says his wife, Laura, one of his doctors and a host of medical workers who responded after his wife dialed 9-1-1 on June 21, 2011.
The couple was at home that morning and Richard was sipping coffee on the porch when he came in and sat down. He said his chest felt “weird.”
“I asked him if everything was OK,” recalls Laura. “He said, ‘Oh, it’s gone now.’ But when I started to move away, it was back again. So I told him, ‘You’re going to the doctor!’”
She left the room and was partly dressed when she decided to peek in on him. “I still can’t remember why I came back into the room, but he was in cardiac arrest.”
Laura, a former certified nurse assistant (CNA), leapt into action. She tilted back his chair, ran to unlock the back door, and dialed 9-1-1. Then she started compressions and was working away when a voice answered. “I was so confused, I forgot to put the phone on speaker. I remember the gal telling me I needed to listen, but I was already busy pushing on his chest and praying.”
Paramedics got to their Vacaville home within minutes and took over for Laura. As the cardiac catheterization lab is in Fairfield, the typical procedure is to send patients suffering a heart attack directly to NorthBay Medical Center, but in this case, paramedics didn’t think there was time to spare. Richard was whisked away to VacaValley Hospital, where he went on to have two more cardiac arrests.
After that, he was sent by ambulance to NorthBay, where he went directly to the cath lab.
But when he arrived, he had no blood pressure. He suffered another cardiac arrest just after he arrived. “The doctor told me it didn’t look good,” remembers Laura.
But then, what Laura calls Richard’s miracle happened. Despite compressed arteries and a total lack of blood pressure, Dr. Harry Dassah was able to run a catheterization line through Richard’s veins to place two stents in an artery that was totally blocked.
The team watched as blood flow returned and blood pressure climbed to 40, 50, 60 and 70.
One of the main concerns, of course, was that Richard had been without oxygen too long, but that’s another miracle, says Laura: “He didn’t suffer any brain damage.”
Richard, now 69, doesn’t look like your typical heart attack patient. He’s slender, athletic and strong.
A co-owner of a drywall business in Vacaville, he works hard, says
his wife. But his family has a long history of cardiac issues, so he didn’t take things for granted. In fact, he had just completed lab tests the week before and was planning to get his chest x-rayed prior to his attack.
“His labs came back normal. Nothing could have prepared us for this,” says Laura. “We were blindsided.”
But thanks to her training in the 1980s as a CNA, Laura had more than a passing familiarity with CPR, and when Richard needed her most, she was quick on her feet.
“She did everything right,” said Dr. Dassah. “She called 9-1-1, she acted in time, and she helped save his life.”
In a way, Laura says she was returning the favor, because Richard saved her life three years earlier when she was choking on a piece of food. He performed the Heimlich maneuver and got her breathing again.
“We’re even now,” chuckles Laura. “No more one-upping. We’re even and that’s fine.”
Next Step for Chest Pain Center
What Richard Kean suffered on June 21, 2011, was a “STEMI”—which stands for ST Elevation Myocardial Infarction, otherwise known as a major heart attack. In recent years, it was protocol to send patients suffering STEMIs out of county for treatment.
“Transferring patients away takes a big bite out of the ‘golden hour,’” says Diana Sullivan, service line director for NorthBay’s Heart & Vascular Center. “The Golden Hour is that first hour of care—the time when, if given clot-busting drugs or other artery-opening treatments, the patient has the greatest chance of survival. Patients sent by ambulance to Sacramento or Walnut Creek have a 45-minute delay in getting treatment. If we can treat them here, we’ll cut the response time dramatically.”
At Wellspring’s deadline, NorthBay was poised to become a STEMI-receiving center, which means that in the future, patients suffering major heart attacks would be brought directly to NorthBay first. “It goes hand-in-hand with our becoming a nationally certified Chest Pain Center for thrombolysis in 2009. We were certified to use drugs to dissolve blood clots. We also started doing primary angioplasty, interventional cardiac procedures, in August 2009, such as placing balloons and stents into blocked heart arteries. The purpose of these procedures is to help re-establish blood flow. In these cases, we’re speeding up the provision of life-saving cardiac care, often saving vital heart muscle and improving survival benefits in high-risk cases,” says Sullivan.
Plans call for the team to support the national public education campaign, Early Heart Attack Care.
And earlier this year, NorthBay joined forces with Dr. Paul McWhirter and a team of physicians to bring 24/7 physician coverage to the cardiac cath lab.
As the evolution of NorthBay’s Chest Pain Center continues, plans call for the team to support the national public education campaign, Early Heart Attack Care. The primary goals are to teach how to recognize the early signs and symptoms of heart attack, the critical importance of calling 9-1-1; and the need for prevention.
“We’re taking our message to the people. We’ll be providing lectures, using posters, ads and we’re happy to visit service clubs to share our message, which is this: “Minutes Matter. Don’t wait more than a few minutes to call 9-1-1.”
Know the signs and symptoms of a heart attack:
- Discomfort or pain in the center of the chest.
- Discomfort in the arm(s), back, neck, jaw or stomach.
- Shortness of breath.
- Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or light-headedness.
Don’t delay, call 9-1-1.