A Walking, Talking Miracle
Cardiac arrest survivor, 47, emerges from therapeutic hypothermia without neurological deficits
Doctors had no idea how many minutes Jason Korber was dead at home before family attempts at CPR and a quick ambulance transfer brought him to UH Parma Medical Center’s Emergency Department. The 47-year-old Parma engineer was posturing, typically an indication of severe brain damage, and they plunged him into therapeutic hypothermia to give him a chance of regaining consciousness.
For 24 hours, Jason was sedated and his body was cooled to reduce brain swelling and allow his body to recover from the sudden trauma of his heart stopping and depriving his organs of blood. Veteran nurse Kelly Danczak, RN, closely monitored his condition and consoled the family, knowing that the likelihood of emerging from an induced coma without neurological deficits would be rare. She comforted Jason’s devastated fiancé.
By Wednesday, it was her turn to cry.
’A walking miracle’
Kelly was off work the day that Jason woke up and began moving his arm and trying to lift his leg. Fellow caregivers were so elated that they called her at home to tell her he was awake and responding to commands.
“It made me cry,” admits Kelly, who was caring for Jason again when he was discharged – a walking, talking miracle – two days later.
“It was truly the most amazing thing I’ve seen in 35 years of nursing, to see a patient’s recovery so all-encompassing.”
Paramedics restored a normal rhythm when they shocked Jason out of ventricular tachycardia/ventricular fibrillation, a life-threatening arrhythmia. But his heart wasn’t pumping well, signaling a low ejection fraction.
“He essentially died,” said interventional cardiologist Paul Poommipanit, MD, who performed a diagnostic catheterization after Jason came out of therapeutic hypothermia. Dr. Poommipanit did not find any blockages to stent, indicating that the arrest did not result from insufficient blood flow to the heart. Jason was discharged from the hospital with a wearable defibrillator and is being evaluated by a cardiologist specializing in electrophysiology for an implantable defibrillator.
“We had no idea he would recover from this, because we didn’t know how long he was down at his home,” added Dr Poommipanit. “I thought he would have some deficits. His recovery was impressive.
“He’s a walking miracle.”
Several small heart attacks in hindsight
Jason woke up in the Heart Center of UH Parma Medical Center, completely unaware that he had died and come back to life. He was stunned when they told him he had survived a cardiac arrest. “What the heck happened?” he uttered when he awoke in a hospital bed with family at his side.
The last thing Jason remembered was his usual bathroom break in the middle of the night. He often experienced some chest discomfort during the night, but it went away.
In retrospect, he realizes these intermittent and inexplicable pains shooting down his arm and squeezing his chest were happening for months. His doctors told him they were likely mini heart-attacks. Without a prior known cardiac history, he never connected them to a heart condition. Unable to afford health insurance, he never saw a physician until that night in the ER.
Jason now realizes lifestyle choices and unexpected circumstances contributed to this crisis. The chief engineer for a family-run group of hotels, he had to lay off his entire staff after the pandemic struck earlier this year. A smoker his whole adult life, he would substitute cigarettes for meals. In the evening, he would have a drink instead.
“I would drink and wouldn’t eat, it finally caught up to me,” Jason said. “I shouldn’t be drinking and smoking – that’s what put me where I was at. This shed a whole new light on my life.”
Rules for living
His fiancé, Pam Hummel, feared Jason would be “a vegetable” and never regain consciousness. She’s grateful her 18-year-old son was there to administer chest compressions while she called 9-1-1, shaking and terrified. Only 10 percent of people who suffer cardiac arrest outside the hospital survive.
At the hospital, with the support of staff like nurse Kelly, Pam clung to hope. And she nodded in agreement when Kelly coached Jason on positive ways to lead a healthier life.
Kelly told Jason he had gone to heaven and returned to earth. She reminded him that while we cannot change our age, gender or family history, we have the power to control what we put in our mouths and what we do with our bodies, including exercise.
“There are rules you have to follow if you want to stay in this world,” Kelly says. “I pray for his compliance.”