A heart attack in Dover to full recovery in Kootenai Health: one man’s near-death experience and the regional partners who saved his life
Kootenai Health has shared many stories and health tips over the years stressing the importance of exercise, eating healthy and getting regular check-ups. While all these standard reminders for better health are extremely important, sometimes, it isn’t the preventive measures that can mean the difference between life and death, it’s the actions of others who change the course of a person’s life. In fact, it was the seamless actions of many who brought one man back from the brink of death on an otherwise uneventful, sunny September day.
Natives of Montana, Sue and George Bache met in high school, married young and raised two girls in California. As they inched toward retirement, they were excited to move back to the Northwest to be closer to their roots and enjoy their outdoor passions of skiing, boating and hiking. After a year-long build, Sue and George’s new dream home in Dover, Idaho was finally complete and ready to share for the first time with family. Their recent 43rd wedding anniversary seemed like the perfect opportunity to celebrate.
As Sue busily hurried about the house, readying it for their guests, George complained of a painful headache and told Sue he needed to lay down. Never prone to migraines, the pain was such that George could not rest. He took out his smartphone and searched “migraine” in the hopes of better understanding what he was experiencing. That is the last thing he remembers from that morning, but Sue remembers every detail all too well.
“George had come out of the bedroom after laying down didn’t help his headache. He sat on the sofa in the living room as I was getting ready to go to the store,” said Sue. “I saw his head tilted back and I thought ‘boy, he fell asleep fast’”. But as Sue got closer, she noticed his mouth and eyes were wide open. George didn’t respond to Sue’s shouts and her attempts to shake him awake.
“I was terrified and immediately called 911. I knew I needed to give him CPR, but it had been a long time since I had learned it – twenty years or so. The 911 operator, Jennine, was a godsend; she kept me focused and talked me through the whole thing until the ambulance arrived,” said Sue.
The paramedic team shocked George’s heart to get it into rhythm and used an innovative mechanical device to assist with CPR. Several sheriffs also responded to the call and helped quickly get George on the road to Bonner General in Sandpoint. “I drove behind the ambulance and stayed on their bumper the whole way – I just kept praying ‘Lord, don’t let him die’”, said Sue.
At Bonner General, George was quickly evaluated by the emergency department team, who determined George needed to be immediately airlifted to Kootenai Health’s cardiac catheter lab (cath lab). A cath lab is equipped with state-of-the-art imaging technology used to view the arteries and check how well blood is flowing to and from the heart. Based on the electrocardiogram (EKG) report forwarded to the hospital by the ambulance personnel, George was having the most severe type of heart attack, known as a STEMI (ST-Segment Elevation Myocardial Infarction). When an artery that supplies blood to the heart suddenly becomes blocked by a blood clot, an EKG shows an elevation in the ST-Segment of the EKG report, which signals medical personnel of a blockage. The longer a blockage is in place, the more the heart is robbed of valuable blood supply, which can cause extensive damage to the heart and even death. Getting patients quickly to a facility with a specialized cath lab to remove the clots is often the linchpin between living or dying.
“We treat roughly 200 STEMI patients each year, said Kootenai Health STEMI Coordinator, Michele Brown, BSN, RN. “Our cath lab also sees an average of 2,000 patients annually. Our team focuses an enormous amount of time and energy working with our regional partners to ensure we meet or exceed best practices when responding to and treating STEMI patients. There are a lot of things that need to happen quickly and precisely to give our patients the best outcomes.”
Thanks to the hard work of Michele and the extended cardiology team, Kootenai Health is a designated Level 1 STEMI center; the highest honor given to hospitals who treat heart attacks. The designation is part of the state of Idaho’s Time Sensitive Emergency System (TSE), which acknowledges hospitals who meet a wide variety of proven metrics around high-quality training, education and services. TSE was created to address the top three preventable causes of death: trauma, stroke, and heart attacks (a.k.a. STEMI). TSE emphasizes the importance of a collaborative approach from all stakeholders throughout the state including hospitals, emergency medical services agencies, public health districts, and the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare.
“We are very proud of our Level 1 STEMI designation, because it validates that the training, education and processes we implement every day are among the best of the best,” said Michele.
It’s this collaboration and dedication to saving lives that set off a series of perfectly-executed events for George that day. What started with CPR at their home in Dover ended with George waking up in Kootenai Health, a little over an hour and a half later, asking “what the heck happened?”
In that hour and a half were the heroic actions of a wife, 911 operator, sheriffs, an emergency services team and emergency department personnel, Life Flight helicopter crew, cath lab techs, nurses and cardiologists – all who honed into the extensive training and education they’ve received to make sure George could return to his new dream home, his wife of 43 years, their children and three young grandchildren.
Kootenai Health interventional cardiologist, Ronald Jenkins, M.D. is the physician who treated George that day and continues to see him for follow-up visits. Dr. Jenkins also happens to be the Medical Director for Bonner County Emergency Medical Services and started the STEMI program over a decade ago. “Everyone did what we train them to do – from start to finish. I’m very proud of the program we’ve been able to build in this region,” said Dr. Jenkins. “I also told George in no uncertain terms that Sue saved his life by starting CPR immediately. She dragged him to the floor and that angel of a 911 operator talked her through CPR until the ambulance crew took over.”
George is fully aware how lucky he is to have had his wife and the STEMI-trained teams working to help him. He has made a full recovery and reports having good energy and feeling even more engaged in everything.
“I wouldn’t switch doctors if I had to; and the nurses and everyone … they were so amazing,” said George. “It really is a gift from God that there are men and women who can work in such excellence ̶ they saved my life. I’ll never forget them.”
To view this story and more in Issue 1, 2023 of Kootenai Health magazine, click HERE.
2.16.23 Written by Kootenai Health Communications and Marketing Manager, Shannon Carroll