Bobby's Story

Tiny Heart Pump Saves Man Who Died 5 Times en Route to Hospital

Bobby Shea died five times on the way to the hospital. But University Hospitals Parma Medical Center – and Brooklyn EMS – weren’t going to let him go without a fight.

It was Halloween, a Saturday morning. The ER called in the Cardiac Catheterization Team. Neelesh Desai, MD, an interventional cardiologist, decided the 62-year-old man with no prior cardiac history was the perfect candidate for a tiny heart pump, which allows the heart to rest until he sufficiently recovers from a massive heart attack to undergo a cardiac procedure. Smaller than the width of a pencil, the Impella ventricular assist device is an innovative technology now available to UH Parma Medical Center as part of University Hospitals Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute.

“He was dead – he was already dead,” said an emotional Susan Shea, herself a survivor from triple cardiac bypass surgery, recalling that fateful day. “By rights, he should not be here. Dr. Desai and his staff, they did not give up on him. They did not have to keep working on him. But for the dedication of the staff, he’s alive.”

The Sheas reunited recently with the Brooklyn paramedics who brought him to the hospital and the UH Parma Medical Center doctors and nurses who carried on the relentless fight to save him. Tears and candor flowed in the hospital auditorium, where everyone wanted to shake Bobby’s hand or hug his wiry frame. Despite oxygen deprivation during multiple arrests – including additional arrests in the ER and the Cath Lab – Bobby seemed remarkably unaffected.

Dr. Desai held the tiny heart pump, explaining how it continuously pumps blood into the heart to maintain the patient’s circulation, even when the heart isn’t functioning normally. Without this device, Bobby Shea would not have survived, Desai declared.

Christine Zirafi, MD, Director of UH Parma Medical Center’s Cardiac Catheterization Lab, said Susan Shea’s instinct to call 9-1-1 when her husband became unresponsive en route to another hospital was a perfect example of the right call. Getting trained EMS to the scene markedly improves survivability, she said, adding that UH Parma has a decade of experience implementing rapid Code STEMI care for heart attack patients.

But Bobby’s heart was too sick for a straightforward STEMI, which involves opening a blocked coronary artery with a balloon angioplasty and inserting a stent to keep the artery from closing again.

“This device allowed Mr. Shea’s heart to recover, and it is the only thing that could have saved him,” Dr. Desai said.

After the heart pump was placed, Bobby was transferred to University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center for two weeks in the intensive care unit. The Cath Lab staff and the medical transport team were all stunned that this Miracle Man, clinging to life the day they met him, looked so healthy.

The oldest of 10, Bobby was accompanied by many family members who also wanted to thank the many “invisible heroes” who saved his life.

“When they saved Bobby, they saved a family,” Susan Shea said. “The ripple effects went quite a long way. Every tiny little thing that happened had an impact on Bobby being alive. The treatment and care he received were absolutely essential in his recovery. Everything happened for a reason.”