Posted by garystrad on 06/17/2020

I have no memory of Sunday, May 21, 2017, and I’m lucky to be alive.

Similar to other Sundays during the spring, I was playing softball in the Chesapeake and Potomac Softball (CAPS) league at Watkins Regional Park in Maryland. I drove to the fields at 09:30, stopping at 7-11 for water and a protein bar and then headed to Watkins. In the parking lot, I met up with a former teammate and good friend and we talked about softball and an upcoming trip I planned to take in June to Barcelona and Amsterdam. The game started at 11:30. About an hour later, as it headed into extra innings, I asked some former teammates about those rules and relayed them back to my team.

With 2 outs, I was the final batter. I hit the ball to short stop; he fielded it, throwing to first base before I crossed the bag. I was out; the game was over. As the teams started post-game congratulations, I was beyond first base, probably feeling something wasn't quite right. I went down on both knees and eventually lied flat on my back. My heart beat was rapid, in ventricular tachycardia, approaching 170 bpm. (Weeks later, I remembered I was wearing a MyZone heart monitor belt which I use at the gym and on occasion, during softball games. The MyZone showed a rapid heartbeat that abruptly stopped at 180 bpm). My coach noticed me lying on the ground and ran over to check on me, and summoned another teammate (who is a physician). They asked me a few questions, and I responded, perhaps not coherently. At this time, my heart was beating fast and went into ventricular fibrillation.

I became unresponsive and lost consciousness. The quick actions of my highly trained teammates saved my life -- a physician, 2 volunteer firefighters/EMT's and an RN, in addition to others trained in CPR. Understanding the dire situation, they started compression CPR and called 911. Collectively, they performed CPR for 20+ minutes before an AED was located by a fellow softball player and off-duty police officer. 4 shocks were delivered on the field before re-establishing a rhythm and CPR continued. It took the ambulance 25 minutes to arrive and they would shock me 2 more times on the way to Prince George's Hospital. I was later told I looked as bad as anyone could....gray, blue and dead.

After reasonably stabilizing my situation in the ER, I was placed in therapeutic hypothermia for 48 hours to limit brain and heart damage. An echocardiogram measured an ejection fraction (EF) of only 30%, meaning the ability of the heart to pump blood was significantly diminished. I wouldn't regain consciousness until May 30. For 9 long days, it was unknown if any good outcome could be expected. On June 1st, I had surgery for an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), as a safeguard measure. Shortly after the surgery, I had difficulty breathing due to aspirational pneumonia, which is not uncommon under the circumstances. I'd go back to the ICU and wake up two days later with a breathing tube.

I was in the hospital for 26 days and subsequently completed a 30-day outpatient cardiac rehabilitation program. The physical weakness was tremendous. My chest was sore for 2 months due to CPR compressions and pneumonia. I’d get dizzy when I stood up and walking 20 feet was tiring. Prior to my release from the hospital, another echocardiogram was performed which showed modest improvement with an EF of 40%. It took 3-4 months to feel relatively normal again and I returned to work August 1st. In September, I had another echocardiogram which measured an EF of 50%. I returned to the gym and a regular exercise program.

I was given a second chance at life. The opportunity to more fully appreciate the people, things and experiences many of us take for granted. The chance to live for today knowing tomorrow may never come. A time for new experiences and memories. And, the excitement of exploring new directions; to do bigger and better things.