Medicine & Miracles: A Cardiac Arrest Story
As an active 56-year-old father and grandfather, Brad Linden never expected his life’s story would include a “beat the odds” tale of survival - a cardiac arrest story. But on July 23, Brad’s life changed in a dramatic, literally heart-stopping way.
Just as the sun was rising, Brad’s wife Mickey turned over in bed when she heard him snoring. Within seconds, she knew something was terribly wrong.
“I heard a rattle in his throat when I went to wake him up,” she recalls, “When the noise stopped and I looked at him, I realized he wasn’t breathing. I, honestly, thought he was dead.”
Mickey yelled for her college-aged children, the two of her four children who were home, and they immediately took action. The couple’s son, David, called 9-1-1 and their daughter, Caroline, ran to get a physician who lived down the street.
“We are so thankful to have Dr. Reagan Bristol in our neighborhood and we are so fortunate that he was home during this ordeal,” Mickey says, “He came down and when he couldn’t find a pulse, he immediately administered CPR while we waited for the ambulance. He is one of the many pieces that had to fit perfectly together to get us to where we are now. He just may have saved his life.”
Many of Dr. Bristol’s colleagues called him the “hero” in this incredible cardiac arrest story, but he doesn’t see his actions as heroic.
“I’m humbled by that term,” he remarks, “But ultimately, I feel fortunate that I was home and available to help Brad. The situation was dire and I knew I had to keep going with CPR until the paramedics arrived. I am so glad I was able to keep him alive until other medical professionals arrived and could take over.”
When EMS arrived, they used a defibrillator, not once, but twice, to get Brad’s heart started, but he still wasn’t conscious.
“At that point, I called our priest and asked him to pray for Brad and I prayed all the way to the hospital,” Mickey recalls, tears welling in her eyes as she thinks of that morning.
When they got to Firelands Emergency Department, the care team worked quickly to assess the situation and to stabilize him. As they moved him into the Intensive Care Unit, the larger care team weighed the options to give Brad the best chance possible.
Dr. Christopher Avendano and Dr. Hassan Ibrahim along with the nursing staff decided to cool Brad’s body to 91 degrees Fahrenheit and to keep him on a ventilator in order to give his body the best chance of survival. This method, called therapeutic hypothermia, was introduced a little more than a decade ago to help patients recover from sudden cardiac arrest.
“This protocol has been shown to improve the chance of neurological recovery in patients whose hearts have stopped and who have had inadequate circulation of blood to their organs,” explains Dr. Avendano, “It is one tool we use to help patients when they are in need of advanced cardiac life support and it was made possible by donor funds raised by The Foundation for Firelands.”
After 48 hours using the Artic Sun to keep Brad’s body cool, the care providers slowly warmed his body to normal temperature, bringing him out of a comatose state.
“When I woke up, I was so disoriented because as far as I knew I was still asleep in my bed at home,” Brad says, “What was even stranger was that my wife was standing over me asking me if I knew who she and my kids were. I had no idea why she was asking me that. Of course, I knew who my family was! When she asked me what year it was, I said 1979. I guess I was thinking about the year I graduated from high school because, for two days, I thought the current year was 1979.”
After Brad awoke, his physicians ran a series of tests on his heart to rule out blockages and other issues. To his family’s surprise, his heart was very healthy.
“I do not have a history of health problems, but I have been on blood pressure medication for several years,” Brad explains, “In the end, the physicians told me that a potassium imbalance occurred and was likely caused by the effect my blood pressure medication had on my kidneys. That caused me to go into cardiac arrest.”
After spending several days in Firelands Intensive Care Unit, Brad was transferred to University Hospitals where he had an implantable defibrillator put into his chest to restart his heart in the event that it stops again.
Brad and Mickey are grateful Brad’s cardiac arrest story ended the way it did because it could’ve ended much differently. This summer, Brad’s job with KBI ended as the factory shut down and he moved to another automotive plant in Minerva, Ohio. To alleviate the burden of driving nearly two hours to work every day, Brad rented an apartment in the Canton suburb. If his cardiac arrest had occurred during the week while he was alone in his apartment, Brad may have died. Even with help, the statistical odds were never in Brad’s favor.
“We were told (by Dr. Irbrahim) that Brad is only one of a few patients he has seen survive this type of event outside of a hospital, because the resources are not typically available to save someone’s life,” Mickey says. “We were very lucky that I woke up to him snoring, that my kids were home, that we had a physician available in our neighborhood and that we received help so quickly.”
When Mickey reflects on the unexpected events that marked her husband's cardiac arrest story, she is grateful in so many ways.
“We received excellent care from start to finish and really every moment had to come together perfectly for Brad to be here today,” Mickey says tearfully. “It truly was medicine and miracles.”
Cardiac Arrest vs. Heart Attack
One misconception is that heart attack and cardiac arrest are the same thing. This is not true. A heart attack may cause cardiac arrest, but cardiac arrest itself is an abrupt stop of the heart that is unexpected. It often shows no signs or symptoms. Heart attack, on the other hand, involve blockages that stop the flow of blood to the heart, and cause the heart muscle tissue to die.
Cardiac arrest is not a heart attack, nor is it a panic attack.
Since cardiac arrest is the sudden stopping of the heart due to an electrical malfunction, death may occur within minutes. It can be reversed with CPR and a defibrillator, which can shock the heart back into rhythm. But both must be conducted quickly.
According to the American Heart Association, more than 350,000 emergency medical services-assessed out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur in the United States each year.