The Brain and Spine Institute is made up of experts in the field of neuroscience in order to bring patients the best healthcare in East Tennessee for a full range of neurological diseases and disorders.
Published: Monday, April 23, 2007
By Wendi Hope Bishop, Editor
“He cannot die today,” Sharon Sprague, RN, a nurse at the University of Tennessee Medical Center, thought as she stood over the father of the bride at a wedding reception of a family friend. At age 60, Eric Wint found himself waking up in the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit at UT Medical Center, much to the surprise of his medical team.
Eric’s daughter’s wedding took place at a resort in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., in 2006. The day had been perfect with a memorable ceremony and a reception off to a great start. Eric felt good all day, but sometime after dinner and dancing with his wife of 42 years, Rita, he began feeling bad. Eric, a smoker, stepped outside for a cigarette and hoped to cool off. After coming back in and resting at the table for a while, he stood up. Without any pain or discomfort, he says, he fell to the floor, hitting his head on the way down.
Eric is no stranger to emergencies. Besides being a fireman and medic, he suffered his own health problems prior to his heart attack in 2006. In 1986, Eric suffered a heart attack with five blocked arteries and received bypass grafts. In 2001, he had a stroke that damaged his vision and heart.
Eric remembers nothing else until being in the hospital. However, onlookers such as Sharon, watched Eric’s heart attack and ran to him right away. “Fortunately, there was a group of nurses at the wedding, including my step-daughter, Jennifer; her husband; Eric’s son-in-law’s brother; myself; Rita; and a few others,” she explains.
By the time people reached him, he already had stopped breathing, and they turned him on his back. “We attempted to breathe for him, but his teeth were clamped,” Sharon explains. “So we followed the American Heart Basic Life Support guidelines and continued compressions.”
Emergency Medical Services (EMS) was called immediately. However, as with so many public places nationwide, there were no defibrillators on site. “When you are in the hospital, you are used to having the equipment right there,” Sharon explains. “I work in the Heart Catheterization Lab, where we have sophisticated resuscitative equipment when a patient is in cardiac arrest.”
Eric received CPR for 20 to 30 minutes before EMS was able to get to the scene on the busy Friday night after Thanksgiving. “When you are in a situation like that, it feels like forever,” Sharon recounts. “I have been a nurse for more than 20 years, and you take care of a lot of patients that have received CPR out in the field. We had to do compressions for so long; I just kept thinking, ‘he cannot die today of all days.’”
When the EMS arrived, he was connected to a monitor, where they found he was in ventricular fibrillation—a dangerous and deadly heart rhythm that requires external defibrillation (shock therapy). The EMS team shocked Eric several times at the scene, established an IV line and an airway, gave medicines in an effort to stabilize his rhythm and rushed him to a hospital in Sevierville, Tenn. Many of the wedding guests, including Sharon and Jennifer, went to the hospital to wait. “It was Friday night after Thanksgiving,” Sharon remembers. “It was really crowded at the emergency department. Dawn was still there in her wedding gown. Then the Emergency Department doctors told the family that Eric had a stable heart rhythm and blood pressure, but his electrocardiogram showed that he was having an acute myocardial infarction. They were going to transfer him, and Dawn insisted they send him to UT Medical Center.”
LIFESTAR, the aeromedical transport service of UT Medical Center, transferred him to the hospital where Sharon had alerted the Cardiac Catheterization Lab staff to standby. Dr. Dale Wortham, chief cardiologist at UT Medical Center, brought Eric straight to the cardiac catheterization lab where he placed several stents in an occluded bypass graft. Eric was on a ventilator, and his condition was critical. Having gone without oxygen for approximately 30 minutes at the resort, Eric’s prognosis was not good.
It was on Sunday that Dawn received the incredible news that Eric was awake and talking. “It truly is amazing that he is alive,” Sharon says. “He was unresponsive for such an extended time. I don’t know how he survived. He would not be here today if we had given up and stopped the compressions.”
The doctors were so surprised that he woke up so fast and that he was aware of where he was and what was happening. “Some people are afraid of treatments because they don’t know what to expect,” Eric says. “With my background as a fireman and medic and my own personal experience before, I knew what to expect from a heart attack. I had a good recovery, too, because I was super active and that saved my life.”
Eric remembers waking up and seeing Rita, but nothing before then. Although he suffered no head injury when he fell, he had many other conditions, including renal failure (kidney failure) caused by the prolonged resuscitation, bruising from his shoulders to his knees, his thyroid stopped working, his left lung had fluid in it and he had a blood sugar problem for a while. He also received an internal cardiac defibrillator for his heart. His kidneys recovered after a few dialysis treatments.
Eric remained in the cardiovascular intensive care unit at UT Medical Center for several days and then was transferred to 8 East, a cardiac step-down unit before being discharged. He did suffer a brief re-hospitalization for pneumonia, but he is finally back at home, thankful for his family that took care of him. “I am independent,” he explains. “People feel so sorry for themselves, but I really try to have a positive outlook. I am still weak from time to time and have shortness of breath sometimes, but I am so thankful. If anyone had ever given up on me, I would not have made it.
“My stay at UT Medical Center was great,” Eric continues. “They really took care of me, and the cardiology staff and dialysis units there are so great. Now that I am home, things do not seem the same. It feels like you come back to a different world. You just have to give yourself time.”
In the end, Eric hopes that his story will be a message for others, which is that more public places need to be prepared for emergencies such as these. “My community has a defibrillator. Resorts and other public places need to be more aware of having the right equipment such as defibrillators and at least one staff member trained in CPR and how to use equipment for critical times like this. If people learn anything from my experience, it should be that. It really could mean the difference between life and death.”
For more information on heart disease and related conditions, visit the Heart Lung Vascular Institute.