Mike's Story

Revived! An Ashtabula Man Finds New Beat After "Lethal" Heart Attack

Mike DeWalt squeezed his wife’s hand one last time before he died. There wasn’t much time left – everything was going dark. His heart attack was massive, and he could feel his body shutting down. His time to say goodbye came on Thursday, April 17, 2014, in the Emergency Department at University Hospitals Conneaut Medical Center.

“I’m not going to make it,” the young father of two whispered to his bride. “I love you. Tell the girls I love them, too. I’m so sorry I won’t be there for you.”

Then, within seconds, he wasn’t. His breathing stopped. His heart stopped. The EKG line went flat. The 41-year-old railroad worker from Ashtabula was dead.

But his care team wouldn’t let him stay that way.

The UH nurses and doctors, the Conneaut firefighters and the waiting MedEvac helicopter’s flight crew took turns pounding a CPR rhythm into Mr. DeWalt’s lifeless chest. Over and over, they jolted him with a defibrillator. Over and over, they forced puffs of air into his flaccid lungs.

For five minutes. Six minutes. Seven minutes.

Mr. DeWalt’s panic-stricken wife sobbed and prayed. “Oh, Lord,” Jodee DeWalt cried inside. “I can’t deal with this – he needs to come back!”

Then, almost impossibly, he did. Seven minutes and 30 seconds after full cardiac arrest, the beeping resumed. Mr. DeWalt’s heart was alive again.

The transport team whisked him outside to the chopper, and they barreled through the air to UH Cleveland Medical Center. Interventional cardiologist David Zidar, MD, and a team of heart experts were waiting. Dr. Zidar guided a wispy catheter through Mr. DeWalt’s arteries and to his heart. The left main artery was completely blocked – a surprising revelation.

“That’s lethal,” Dr. Zidar said. “Most people die of that before they ever make it to the hospital.”

Mr. DeWalt was among those who died – and yet he was an exception. The doctor inflated a tiny balloon at the catheter’s tip. He slipped in a stent to permanently open the artery. At such moments, Dr. Zidar says, “there is a peace that is palpable.”

“This is the exact reason a lot of us go into interventional cardiology,” he said. “It’s a magical transformation when you go from a patient having a massive heart attack to having the artery open and the patient can take a breath and their chest pain goes away.”

Mr. DeWalt spent the three days of Easter weekend coming more fully back to life.

“Everyone knew what they were doing so well that it just instilled this feeling that, ‘Hey, I’m going to make it through this,’” he recalled. “Every single person along the way – the doctors, the nurses, the guy who came into my room to empty my garbage – gave me such reassurance. I knew I was in the right place.

“So did my dad. He had a heart attack six years ago and went to [another large area hospital], and he was amazed by how much better everything was at UH. He kept saying, ‘Son, you are lucky to be in this place.’”

By Tuesday, Mr. DeWalt was home. In the ensuing weeks, rehabilitation staff at UH Conneaut Medical Center coaxed him to recovery.

At University Hospitals, New Frontiers in Heart Valve Replacement

The “high surgical risk” label is losing power as a barrier to heart-valve repair at University Hospitals Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute. High-risk patients routinely undergo lifesaving valve replacements at UH – even while wide awake and talking with the doctors working on them. Aortic valve failure is among the most common and critical heart problems among seniors. Open-heart surgery has been a solution. But for many patients, it is too risky, leaving a grim prognosis. Now, a fast-emerging option at UH called transcatheter aortic valve replacement, or TAVR, is making risky repairs routine. Our TAVR specialists are among the nation’s most experienced. They insert a catheter into a leg artery and snake it up to the heart to implant an artificial valve. UH’s experts pioneered a way to operate on fully conscious patients using only light anesthesia and relaxing sedatives. And patients are typically home – pain-free – in a couple days, instead of weeks.

Find out more about TAVR

David Zidar, MD, is also an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine

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