Champion Pickleball Player Back on the Court, Thanks to Winning Team

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Interventional cardiologist Paul Poommipanit, MD (at left in scrubs and white coat) with Bill Regan (seated in light blue shirt).
Bill Regan, a 79-year-old pickleball champ who has competed in national and international tournaments, knows all about collaborating for a winning result. But the most important team in his life was waiting just off the court, when heart attacks struck – twice in just six months.

 

The Hudson man regularly plays with friends on a court near Ries Ice Rink in Parma. He had just stepped off the court one May morning when he collapsed. Fortunately for him, he had been playing with two men who know cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

The men, a retired Cleveland firefighter and retired Brunswick police officer, immediately recognized Bill was having a heart attack -- his second in six months -- and started the vital bystander CPR that can double or triple a person’s chance of survival while 9-1-1 was called. In minutes, Parma police arrived and pulled an automated external defibrillator from their police car to shock Bill’s heart back into rhythm. Then paramedics from Parma Fire Department arrived to take Bill to UH Parma Medical Center.

“I’m so grateful for these guys,” said Bill at a reunion at UH Parma, surrounded by the two physicians, five medics, two police officers and two friends who made this day possible. “They are the quiet everyday heroes here in the community of Parma. You’re very fortunate to have dedicated people like this.”

For 15 years, UH Parma has employed the Code STEMI system, in which squads can alert the emergency departments that they are bringing a patient with a heart attack while en route, allowing the hospital cardiac catheterization lab to prepare for the patient. This fast response time ensures the blocked coronary artery is opened as quickly as possible, as in Bill’s case where he suffered no lasting deficits.

UH Parma, already recognized for strong cardiac care, is gaining a boost from UH Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute with the recently announced expansion of cardiac surgery and advanced cardiovascular services. The hospital is less than two miles from the pickleball courts where Bill’s heart attacks struck both times.

“He was incredulous he was having a heart attack,” said Paul Poommipanit, MD, the interventional cardiologist who inserted the first stent in Bill’s right coronary artery after his first heart attack in November. Dr. Poommipanit was expecting Bill back for his six-month follow-up for the first stent when he learned Bill had returned to the hospital for treatment by the emergency medical services squad.

Bill’s wife and usual pickleball partner, Eileen, believes his case underscores the importance of knowing CPR to respond in an emergency. Fortunately, the retired members of the safety forces with whom Bill was playing that May morning recognized his distress as a heart attack.

“This really emphasizes the need for all of us to be up to our CPR standards," Eileen says. “They – all of them together, starting with bystander CPR – definitely saved his life."

Bill was back on the pickleball court the week after his discharge in May 2021. With a decade of competition under his belt, he’s not about to abandon the sport that has kept his heart pumping for the past decade. Bill and Eileen placed third in the nation at the National Senior Games in Minneapolis in 2015. The couple went on to medal in the Spanish Open and Bainbridge Cup (the first intercontinental team event in the history of the sport) in Madrid in 2017 and the Irish Open in 2019. They only slowed down when the pandemic prompted cancellation of the 2020 tournaments. They intend to return to the National Senior Games next year.

Bill turned 80 on August 5, the same week UH Parma celebrated 60 years of serving the southwest suburbs. Now the father of five and grandfather of 13 is ready to return to the game.

“Yesterday I went back to Parma to see what the karma was like," Bill says. “I had a good day. I really feel good. The health caregivers here are excellent."

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